A Compelling Police Procedural (with Magic!): Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

Lies Sleeping is the latest instalment in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series of magical murder mysteries, set in London and featuring a London Metropolitan police force that really doesn’t want to have to admit that magic exists. Lies Sleeping is the seventh full-length novel in a series that also encompasses several graphic novels and at least one novella. Peter Grant’s London has depth, breadth, and a complex array of recurring characters, and every one of the novels can be relied on to start with a bang.

I know I read The Hanging Tree, the previous novel in the sequence, but I have only the faintest recollection of any of its events. While Lies Sleeping is unlikely to make for an easy entry-point to the series—the complex array of recurring characters makes it much more advisable to start at the beginning, with Rivers of London (released in the U.S. as Midnight Riot)—it’s remarkably forgiving to my fuzziness on recent details. Lies Sleeping rapidly and efficiently brings the reader up to date on the doings of now-Detective Constable Peter Grant, apprentice wizard, and his boss Detective Inspector Thomas Nightingale, actual wizard.

In short order, we learn that the individual known as the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, now has an identity that’s known to the police. Grant and Nightingale, and a large task force including DC Sahra Guleed, Grant’s sometime investigative partner, is on the trail of his possible known associates, to try to track him down.

Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant has a distinctive voice, one that makes even the bureaucracy of regular police work engaging and compelling. (It also makes Grant’s relationship with Beverly “Bev” Brook, one of the daughters of Mama Thames and herself a personification of one of the rivers of London, very entertaining.) But amidst the everyday legwork of tracking a dangerous murderer, Grant and his colleagues start uncovering signs that the Faceless Man isn’t, in fact, on the run. The Faceless Man might instead be carrying out a plan that will win him great power and irrevocably change the shape of London.

Grant becomes part of a perilous game of cat and mouse, unsure whether he can trust the hints dropped to him by his former friend and colleague Lesley May—who betrayed him and everything he thought she believed, but who seems to want to keep him alive. With City lawyers engaged in goat-sacrificing rituals, magically active bells, and a series of thefts from archaeological sites around London, Grant has a puzzle on his hands. And then he falls into the Faceless Man’s hands himself…

Aaronovitch writes a tense, compelling police procedural with magic. As usual, Grant’s voice is striking, and the action gripping and intense. But while Lies Sleeping is generally well-paced, the pacing slacks off towards the climax, when Grant is temporarily taken out of play by his adversaries. This diminution of forward momentum at a crucial moment makes the climactic scenes feel somewhat rushed, a hasty—if explosive—conclusion to a dependably enjoyable story.

Let’s be honest: If you’ve read Aaronovitch’s other Peter Grant novels, you probably already know if you want to read Lies Sleeping. It’s a solid series novel, with few major surprises on either the character or plot development front—though I’m very fond of Guleed, and I appreciate Lies Sleeping‘s gestures towards the need for treating mental health issues and job-trauma-related stress. And one of the things I enjoy about this series is that Grant’s actions have consequences—he’s actually accountable to the rules and regulations of regular policing, even if he’s one of only two wizards in the Met’s employ.

I enjoyed Lies Sleeping. I fully expect to enjoy the next of Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant novels, when it comes out: they’re reliably entertaining.

Lies Sleeping is available from DAW Books on November 20th.

Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

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