The Hanging Tree – Ben Aaronovitch

Ben Aaronovitch’s latest novel in the Peter Grant/Rivers of London series – The Hanging Tree – brings us back to London after Peter’s foray into the countryside in Foxglove Summer. The focus is on Mayfair this time as Peter investigates a drug-related death where one of the suspects is the daughter of Lady Tyburn, physical manifestation of one of London’s rivers and not one of Peter’s biggest fans. As the fateful events are gradually revealed and the implications uncovered, new players in the magical scene are introduced, some familiar faces reappear, and a bigger mystery might just be solved.

Six books into the series, the main characters here are familiar enough that despite a two-year gap between books it takes just a few lines to be instantly immersed in Aaronovitch’s world of London and the demi-monde. The usual elements are all present and correct, but this time it feels like the scope is widening a bit – we’ve been tantalised before by Nightingale’s checkered history and involvement with Britain’s other wizards, but here we’re introduced to a couple of practitioners from a very different background but cleverly linked in with what’s gone before. There’s also the return of a character from book three alongside some new players from across the pond, but perhaps most interesting is the continued development of DC Guleed into an increasingly interesting character – the long-suffering, reliable foil to the often rash and headstrong Peter.

Plot-wise it’s all as carefully planned and slowly revealed as usual, perhaps even more so than before as there’s a growing sense throughout the book that maybe – maybe – Peter and Nightingale are getting closer to solving one of the key ongoing mysteries of the series so far. There’s also a welcome return for Lesley May to add a little extra spice and conflict for Peter, whose relationship with Beverley Brook provides a smart subplot as he continues to fumble his way through both his magical training and his careful maneuvering through the intricate politics of the London rivers. After Foxglove Summer’s trip to the country, London itself is back in focus as Aaronovitch cleverly folds in fascinating nuggets of history and architectural commentary as the action moves around the city.

Essentially this is just more of the same from Aaronovitch, but when the storytelling is so good and the characters are so enjoyable, that’s very much a good thing. There’s so much to enjoy here, not least a fine mystery and plenty of magic-laden set pieces, but the key to these books is undoubtedly the characters. Specifically, it’s Peter’s internal voice that really drives these books, always ready with wry observations and occasionally disarming honesty. In context of the series as a whole this is also somewhat more focused than the previous instalment, pushing forward with the overarching plot and regaining a little impetus that was lost last time around. Overall it’s an excellent addition to the series and a superbly enjoyable read.

Thanks to Orion Publishing and NetGalley for the advance copy of this book!

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