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What the sleeping mind knows [May. 16th, 2017|08:31 pm]

On Thursday I found a copy of Ben Aaronovitch's The Hanging Tree in a charity shop. I've been waiting for the paperback, and here was a copy of the hardback, missing its dust jacket but only slightly bent, at a fraction of the price and a couple of months early. I carried it home in triumph, and with an amazing effort of will managed not to start reading it for almost a day and a half. Then I caved in, and read it at every opportunity over the next couple of days. I love the 'Rivers of London' series, novels and comics both, and I enjoyed this sixth book as much as any of them.

So it wasn't until very early this morning, inexplicably wakeful and listening to the dawn chorus, that I started to think "Hang on, what happened to the plot?"

The story opens with Peter Grant receiving a phone call from Lady Tyburn: a friend of her daughter has "had an accident", and she wants Peter to ensure that her daughter is not caught up in the investigation. This, of course, makes it inevitable that her daughter will be caught up in the investigation, although the focus of inquiries soon shifts from the death of the young woman at a party in an unoccupied luxury flat to the involvement of the recurrent adversary, the Faceless Man. There is, as always, some lovely stuff about London, specifically about Tyburn, and there are some interesting hints that the tradition of magic so faithfully guarded by the Folly is not the only tradition, and there are some great one-liners, many of them about architecture -

- which is why it took me so long to ask, but what about the unfortunate young woman who died at that party? Was it really what it appeared to be, too many pills which were more toxic than she had thought? Have I missed some subtle magical twist, or is this story line just something to draw us in to the ongoing conflict with the Faceless Man?

As a general rule, I would find this disappointing: I like my adversary to be someone with motives of their own, which are worked out in the course of the book I'm reading. I know there are readers who welcome recurring characters, and like to see established villains reappear, but I'm not one of them. I regard the arch-enemy figure as an excuse for the author to skimp on motivation, someone who's bad because s/he's bad, and to greet them with a weary "Oh, not you again?" The chase ends with the escape of the Faceless Man and his accomplice, which could easily feel like an anti-climax. But. The Hanging Tree has a sort of coda in which Peter reflects on what has happened, and draws some conclusions, and it felt like a promise: this is not just recycling the same characters, there is an overarching story going on here.

Aaronovitch goes to a lot of trouble to remind us of past volumes in the series. Characters, themes, locations, all reappear and are remarked on (it's a great candidate for a re-read). I feel he's earned my trust that the future is as solid as the past. If The Hanging Tree doesn't feel quite complete in itself, it's because it's one section of a single novel in multiple installments. "Oh," I thought, "it's a roman fleuve!"

Then I realised what I'd done, and was so pleased with myself that I fell asleep again.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.