Review: Midnight Riot
So I recently read on social media (that salacious den of way-too-accurate ads and oodles of wasted time), that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost had optioned a book series called Rivers of London by some bloke named Ben Aaronovitch (Official Announcement) for a movie. I’ve absolutely loved all of the movies from Pegg and Frost that I’ve seen, and as the book was listed as being “urban fantasy”, I thought it worth a few ticks of my progressively aging ticker.
Midnight Riot (Amazon), (or for those of you across the pond: “Rivers of London”), is the first book in the PC Peter Grant (Rivers of London) series. I picked up the audiobook for this one, and really liked the performance that the narrator, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, gave of the book. Most of you probably know that we’re Yanks here at EBR, and as I was listening to this one, I couldn’t help but associate Smith’s voice with a different Brit that I was somewhat more acquainted with: James Corden. Now those of you that know a bit more about British dialects/accents might cry foul at this, but it is what it is. As it turned out, this association I’d made raised it’s head several times whilst I was listening, as the main character of the story is a trim, black guy, and James Corden… most definitely is not. 🙂 I’m somewhat curious if any others on this side of the pond that listened to the audiobook had the same thing come up for them. Anyhow.
Peter Grant is the main character of the novel, and from what I understand, the entire series. He’s a young officer in the Metropolitan Police, and at the beginning of the story, he’s about to get canned. Lucky for him, he bumps into a ghost one night near the end of his assumed tenure, and after briefly mentioning what he’d seen within earshot of the right people, finds himself inducted into the small branch of the Met that deals with “The Supernatural” instead of out on his ear. He quickly finds himself in the middle of two important cases that are brought to the attention of his new Detective Chief Inspector, Thomas Nightingale. The first deals with a seemingly random rash of individuals that are cropping up all over London who become excessively violent with little provocation, after which their faces explode. The second deals with brokering a kind of peace between the two major deities of the local river, Mama and Papa Thames, and their individual families.
So I can totally see Simon Pegg and Nick Frost doing this show. It’s going to be great. The story itself has a lot of humor built into it, and the mystery and investigative aspects of the plot start up quick. The writing is quite good here. Each of the characters is laid out well, and it doesn’t take long to settle into the mix of things and get down to really enjoying the story.
The first half of the book passed by fairly quickly, making me laugh and pulling me along with new and interesting additions to the story in every chapter. This portion of the story didn’t really lend itself to any kind of progression, as there was so much newness being introduced at every step. From ghosts, to the magic, to the river deities, to all of the people that were dying, etc, etc.
When Peter and his boss finally start to make some headway though, the plot took some shape and started rolling toward what looked like two inevitable meetings: one with the river deities, and one with the villain sewing all of the morbid chaos across the streets of London. However, at about the two-thirds mark, as the pacing was picking up and driving toward the endings I’d envisioned, I started losing my interest, and that bothered me a bit because I had so been enjoying everything up until that point.
The biggest issues I had was with not understanding why characters were doing what they were doing. Their motivations had become opaque to me. Including, with the main character. This though, I can attribute to the fact that the author chooses to not share what he doesn’t want to share. There were several points in the story where I got something along the lines of, “and then he told her all about his plan and she thought it was horrible.” The kicker being not only that we don’t know what his plan is, but also that we never even learn how he came to the conclusion that his plan wasn’t absolutely cockamamie.
So why does the guy start to do the things he does? No idea. Why does he make the connections that he does? Couldn’t tell you. At this point I started thinking about the rest of the story (not a good sign when a reviewer starts to do this), and I wanted to know why all this stuff had started up in the first place. What triggered him seeing the ghost? Why was the argument between the river deities bad enough right now that it had to be mediated? Why were people suddenly killing their friends and neighbors and then having their heads pop like an overly infected zit?
On this side of the experience, I can see that all of the pieces of story in this book have some really good potential to make a really good movie. Especially in light of the fact that we have Pegg & Frost at the helm, and with how the story came together (despite the fact that I didn’t really understand or enjoy the details surrounding the events in the book).
Something to look forward to, but unless the series gets significantly more well-told in later books, probably a story to skip over for now.
- Recommended Age: 16+
- Language: Frequently strong, but within the vernacular of the world these days
- Violence: High level of violence. I did mention exploding heads, right?
- Sex: Occasional moderately strong references and some sexual tension