Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch

Jazz is cool.

It’s undeniable; it’s super cool. As a genre of music, it lurks in the back of the iPod in a smoke filled subterranean playlist. Jazz does not wear sunglasses; jazz is born with dark tinted irises. In a politically correct world, jazz sensuously drinks and smokes itself to a hospital bed where it still looks cool. And probably seduces the nurse, the consultant and the undertaker. Jazz is smart and intellectual and doesn’t care; and it is dirty and filthy and doesn’t care.

It’s also a genre of music I know little about.

Which made Moon Over Soho, Ben Aaronovitch’s second novel revolving around Peter Grant, the Met’s latest magic police officer, slightly intimidating. Because there’s an awful lot of jazz in it.

It’s not much of a problem, to be fair. I just wish I knew the artists and songs he mentions.

Two plots interweave through the book.

Firstly, a series of jazz musicians die of apparently natural causes but, because of lingering vestigia – a sort of magical afterglow – Peter is called in. Secondly, a growing number of men die from exsanguination. Exsanguination following the biting off of their manhoods. Collective crossing of male legs. Even more disturbing is that the teeth which did the biting were not the usual horizontal facial kind: instead they were horizontally oriented and vaginally located. Every man’s Freudian nightmare!

Entwined with these plots is: a search for a mysterious and dangerous black magician; a budding love interest for Peter; more insights into Peter’s boss – the enigmatic Nightingale – and his background; and the aftermath of the previous book.

Aaronovitch gives himself a lot to do and – to be honest – it makes the book less satisfying than expected. There’s no real resolution: the black magician is encountered but not apprehended; the pale lady – she with the toothed front bottom – is rather speedily dispatched. The book feels like a bridge, converting the first book into a series by putting together the threads that will be developed later. It felt to me as if Aaronovitch had intended a series but the editors had doubts over its success and made him make edits so that it could have been a one-off. This book seems to be putting into place the pieces to set up the future books.

Don’t get me wrong though, this isn’t a bad book! It’s a solid, paced read. It’s not the most intellectually challenging or linguistically sophisticated but it’s a good read. Two things impressed me most:

– Nightingale remains successfully impressive: hints of his life are given which are sufficient to make him formidable – his fireball destroyed a Tiger Tank in World War 2 and after the war he returned to his old school to carve his fallen schoolmates names into the wall; but controlled enough to remain mysterious.

– Lesley, his comrade, colleague and possible love interest from the first book who became temporarily possessed, returns. I had been expecting her return, but not that the facial injuries inflicted in the previous book could not be healed. I had expected her to have been back to normal with the Harry Potter style explanation: “oh it’s magic so that explains it all”. Instead her injuries remain so severe that she is unable even to speak at the start of the book; wears a face mask up until the final pages; and Peter is horrified when he finally sees it. There was a certain integrity and honesty in keeping her injuries extreme. And, from the final pages of the novel, it is clear she will become a very significant character in future novels.

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