Review: Lies Sleeping, Ben Aaronovitch

I finished my review of The Hanging Tree with the expressed hope that it would not take another two years for the next instalment.  But then that was exactly what happened, other than the filler story Furthest Station.  Still, after all this time, we have made it.  It’s time for Peter Grant and the gang to tackle the Big Baddy, otherwise known as the Faceless Man a.k.a. Martin Chorley, wanted for various crimes including murder, fraud and being a generally dangerous nuisance.  As the Met moves in to apprehend him, nobody, least of all the reader, is expecting that Chorley will come quietly.

Rivers of London has never been a series that rushed the action – it took several books for Peter to even conjure a were-light.  Despite (or maybe because of) this, with such a long build-up, some sort of pay-off is expected.  What is the Faceless Man’s endgame?  Why does he need Lesley?  How exactly are Peter and Nightingale going to stop him and will there be talking foxes involved?  I can’t have been the only one starting Lies Sleeping full of questions.

The book opens with a run-down on Operation Jennifer, the complex multi-agency plan to arrest Chorley.  It sounds not terribly dissimilar to some of the lingo and strategies used by the crew of Line of Duty’s AC-12.  Now that would be a crossover well worth tuning in for.  An early attempt to speak to known Faceless Man associate Richard Williams ends in bloodshed with the Faceless Man arranging for Williams to be silenced.  However, despite all of this, with a fair amount of sleuthing, Peter is able to follow a trail which leads him to Chorley’s real plan, which has its roots in London’s earliest origins and has the potential to throw the whole city into chaos.

Following on from the last instalment, I chose to stick with the audio version of the novel since Kobna Holdbrook-Smith is such a fantastic narrator.  No matter what adaptations of Rivers may lie in the future, he is Peter – far superior to the version that had been in my head before I first heard his.  Added to that, Holdbrook-Smith is also incredibly versatile in how he portrays the other characters.  From the upper-class tones of Nightingale to the teenage grunts of Abigail, he has elevated my enjoyment of the whole series.

Lies does continue the pattern for Nightingale to be elsewhere when Peter is in peril.  On this occasion, Michelle Obama’s visit provided the excuse to draw him away – the First Lady needed the best protection available.  Still, we do at least get to see him in action when they encounter Patrick Gale so perhaps Aaronovitch took on board this criticism of earlier books.  I did wonder too if Lies was rather Aaronovitch’s ‘Brexit’ novel – when Peter does confront the Faceless Man and Lesley, there was something so vapid about their vague non-explanation of what they were hoping to achieve.  Something ‘better’.  Something we can ‘all be proud of’.  Something that requires the total destruction of all that has gone before.  Sound familiar?

Despite there being another novella due out shortly, Lies had the feel of something that just might be the end of the series.  It made multiple references to previous instalments with the feeling of drawing everything together.  We saw reappearances from a musician last mentioned in Moon Over Soho, the Quiet People from Whispers Underground, the Fae from Foxglove Summer and even Mr Punch made his long-awaited return.  I will be sad if Aaronovitch has decided to stop writing full-length Peter Grant stories but the way it concluded gives some closure for the reader while leaving the door just open.

Being honest, Lies Sleeping is not the best of the series.  The pacing was uneven and after so long in the shadows, the Faceless Man never quite lived up to expectations as a satisfying villain.  The supporting cast is incredibly strong (and I was so glad that the talking foxes popped up again).  Even relatively recent additions such as Sahra Guleed feeling well-rounded and compelling.  It’s just that every so often I realise that we are seven books in and Nightingale remains enigmatic with only hints about his past – I used to think that Aaronovitch was going to reveal more but it now appears unlikely.

For all that though, there is still a spark about Rivers of London which keeps drawing me back.  Peter’s wry wit and blend between police procedural and magical minutiae has always been a winning combination.  Even the frustrating Nightingale can come out with a gem such as when he remarks to Peter, ‘However long you may live, the world will never lose its ability to surprise you with its beauty.’  It’s enough to have me seriously considering buying the entire Peter Grant back catalogue on Audible and restarting the adventure all over again.

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Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch
Published by Hachette UK on November 15th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Police Procedural, Crime, Fantasy, Contemporary, General
Pages: 416
ISBN: 9781473207844

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