Broken Homes is the fourth instalment in Ben Aaronovitch’s bestselling Peter Grant series, after last year’s Whispers Under Ground. If you’re new to the joy that’s PC Peter Grant and the mysteries he investigates under the supervision of DCI Thomas Nightingale—England’s last officially practising wizard—Broken Homes is not the best place to start. Unlike Moon Over Soho or Whispers Under Ground, it doesn’t give you much time to get your feet under you before it starts setting up its dominos and knocking them down.
The knocking down is, in places, rather literal.
Broken Homes opens with Aaronovitch’s trademark rapidity and subversive joy with the acronyms and minutiae of modern policing. We get swiftly caught up with the characters who’ve previously appeared in the series, with a side-trip into the policing of the Spring Court of the God and Goddess of the Thames. But the real meat of the story continues the story of Peter Grant, Lesley May, Nightingale, and the dangerous rogue magician known only as the “Faceless Man.”
A magically-tainted car accident, a body dumped at the side of the road, a mysterious inexplicable suicide, and a theft from the National Trust-maintained house of a dead Modernist architect: all of these things are connected. They all involve the Faceless Man, and some of them lead back to a London sink estate called Skygarden near Elephant and Castle in Southwark. Skygarden, we’re told, was the brainchild of German Modernist architect Erik Stromberg,* who was himself a practising wizard, and who designed the Skygarden to collect the vestigia—magical energy—of human habitation and turn it into usable energy. So Peter and Lesley—her face still a ruin from the spirit of riot in Rivers of London—pretend to be tenants in order to gather information. They’re trying to discover exactly why and how the Faceless Man is interested.
*Aaronovitch helpfully includes an Author’s Note pointing out that no such person existed, and that he’s taken liberties with London buildings to fit in Stromberg’s architecture. Which is a handy clarification to have!
Meanwhile, their other investigations are ongoing. Including one that leads them into a potentially murderous confrontation with another of the Faceless Man’s associates, the mercenary Varvara Sidorovna. Her arrest gives them an interesting piece of information: Thomas Nightingale isn’t the only wizard who appears to be aging backwards. But they’re no closer to identifying the Faceless Man.
Until Peter stumbles across explosive charges in the superstructure of the Skygarden.
While Broken Homes is an enormously fun, fast-paced, witty novel, it lacks a single coherent narrative thread to tie it all together. It is much more episodic than its predecessors, and with many more threads that don’t seem to neatly tie off at the end as well. I recommend it, but it doesn’t stand alone at all well, and is definitely pointing the way forward at an immediate sequel.
Beyond this point are serious spoilers. The review is finished apart from SPOILERS.
I don’t normally care about SPOILERS, but this is big.
I mean it. SPOILERS. GO BACK.
Lesley. PC Lesley May, the copper’s cop. The woman whose attitude to taser-deployment is that “people with heart conditions, epilepsy, and an aversion to electrocution should not embark upon breaches of the peace in the first place.” She tases Peter in the back and rescues the Faceless Man.
That rather came out of nowhere, from my perspective. Peter concludes that she wants to have a face-like face again, but I’m not certain, myself, that’s a good enough explanation—and it certainly wasn’t telegraphed at all.
That’s something Aaronovitch had better clear up in the sequel, is all I’m saying. And yes. I am indeed all agog to read what happens next.
Pity about having to wait until next year at the earliest…
Broken Homes is available now from Gollancz.