Written by Ben Aaronovitch — The Hanging Tree is the sixth book in the highly entertaining Rivers of London series, which debuted back in 2011. Police procedural is mixed rather nicely with a heavy dose of urban fantasy, and a side order of humour. PC Peter Grant serves as our narrator and guide. Primarily a Metropolitan Police officer, he’s also the service’s first officially mandated apprentice wizard in over half a century.
The book starts with a late night phone call and a favour being called in. Lady Ty, aka Lady Cecelia Tyburn-Thames, Goddess of the River Tyburn and daughter of Mama Thames, has a problem that she needs Peter to deal with as quickly and discretely as possible. Her teenage daughter, Olivia Jane McAllister-Thames, has managed to get herself entangled in a suspicious drug-related death at a party in Knightsbridge. Ty wants her daughter kept out of the investigation.
Easier said than done. First off, the victim, Christina Chorley, is one of Olivia’s school friends. Secondly, Olivia has just admitted possession of the stash of Magic Babas that led to Christina’s death.
On the surface, this looks like your bog standard paranormal police investigation but when river goddesses are involved, it unusually means that Operation Falcon – no, not the Met’s specialist online fraud investigation – needs to be involved. Peter and his boss, Inspector Thomas Nightingale, make up the two-man team handling cases involving magic and the supernatural. This time they’re assisted by DC Sahra Guleed of the Belgravia Murder Investigation Squad, and from the start it’s clear there’s more than just a dodgy batch of drugs to be concerned about. First, there’s the reappearance of Peter’s former colleague, Lesley May, who’s switched sides and may be working with the Faceless Man, a character we first met in Moon Over Soho, who has the ability to change appearance.
As with the previous books in the series, this is a nail-biter. Peter pursues Lesley, who seems to be trying to disrupt his investigation at every turn. Her re-appearance can mean only one thing. When other strange deaths are reported, Peter finds himself in a race to get to the next witness before the Faceless Man does.
The style of the book is quite chatty, so you’re not just following the investigation, you’re also getting Peter’s take on the situation. The Hanging Tree is one of those books you feel yourself being pulled into, and if you’re familiar with the London settings, it’s easy to visualise what’s happening as you read. Peter’s the kind of character you can’t help liking. He’s very matter-of-fact about the cases he works. As if dealing with supernatural beings is just something he’s accepted as normal. He’s acutely aware that it’s a dangerous job and that the usual police rules may need to be adapted to fit the situations he and Nightingale have to deal with. In fact, he’s writing the manual on it. He’s come a long way in six books and it’s rather like reconnecting with an old friend.
The best thing about this series is Ben Aaronovitch’s ability to keep the tension bubbling throughout. You know you’re going to be on tenterhooks by the time you reach the final showdown, as the rest of the book isn’t without incident. Let’s just say, you wouldn’t want to find yourself anywhere underground with a supernatural being… someone’s definitely going to get hurt. The police procedural purists also may be pleasantly by the way the supernatural elements are seamlessly weaved into the story.
This is a series that really needs to be read in sequence, if you want to do it justice, but be warned, it’s habit forming. Once you’ve read one book you’ll definitely be clamouring for the next. If you’re already a Rivers addict, then you certainly won’t be disappointed by Ben Aaronovitch’s latest offering.
For a tougher take on the supernatural detective angle, try John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars