Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London: Body Work

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABody Work is an interstitial series of comics in the muted superhero tradition. It fits between and around books two and three in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, a very successful series of novels about a part-Sierra Leonian junior Metropolitan police officer who is also an apprentice wizard, living in The Folly, one of the grand houses in London’s Russell Square that isn’t a private language school. There he is taught magic by Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last operational police office with high-level magic to have survived the Second World War. Nightingale is powerful enough to have taken out a Tiger tank while leading a retreat at the Battle of Ettersberg (which was kept out of the history books), but somehow he is ageing backwards, and has never quite got the hang of modern life and technology. The third person in The Folly is Molly, a strange, silent woman who dresses by choice in full Edwardian housemaid’s uniform, and she too is learning to modernise by following Jamie Oliver cookbooks to the letter. She is the perfect housekeeper, but is probably also a man-eating fae with terrifying sharp teeth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe novels are terrific, and I’ve reviewed them here. The comic is also terrific (I reviewed the first issue here), and the second issue is showing some excellent new information about the characters that make it a great way to dip into the world of police as wizards. Issue one started with a car and its driver in the Thames. Peter’s friend Beverley, a river goddess (London has as many river gods and goddesses as it has forgotten rivers; didn’t you know?), finds the body, and calls the police who aren’t at all happy about this because the killing is clearly a Falcon case. That’s the codeword for ‘weird stuff’ with which the Met are not qualified to deal, nor do they want to, being sensible folk who want to survive in life as well as get their promotions. Peter follows a lead to a car repair garage where he has to battle with a psychotic car intent on running him down. Meanwhile, in issue 2, Nightingale is searching for Peter, but has to be told by an unsavoury goblin in Chelsea that he could just ring up the officers who found the body. ‘Don’t feel too bad,’ the goblin says, not quite maliciously, ‘After all, some of us have got used to working alone.’

This is what issue 2 is about: more of Nightingale’s back story, and his loneliness. We hear bits and pieces in the novels about how he has lost all his friends, all the boys he was at school with and trained with, all killed in the war in that final apocalyptic battle that may also have been needless and a mistake. When, at the beginning of the first book in the series, Rivers of London, Nightingale encounters Constable Peter Grant in Covent Garden at midnight, hoping to meet a ghost who’s a witness to that evening’s murder, Peter may be the first apprentice material he’s found in decades. Peter teaches Nightingale about mobile phones, and the internet. Peter rigs up a magic-proof electricity supply in an annexe to The Folly to install a television, and Nightingale begins to watch the rugby. Peter also starts researching how magic actually works according to the laws of physics, and invents new bits of electronic kit that proper police officer wizards can use even while they’re casting spells. Nightingale swoops on the potential in Peter’s inventions that he can understand, but still remains a man apart, separated by time and loss from the world of today.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANightingale has a silver-topped cane (he look a bit like Patrick McNee in the comic) which is his wizard’s staff, but descriptions can only go so far in the novels. In the comics we see the dapperness, even a touch of the David Beckhams in Nightingale’s three-piece suiting. (Peter wears M&S.) Nightingale’s sharpness is his Chief Inspectorness but when he remembers the past, we can also see his angry, miserable sadness. In the frames where the older Nightingale is leading his company in battledress during the war, his face is etched and craggy. In the modern now, he’s smoother and younger, but infinitely authoritative. He recalls the events of the night when four of his friends decided to investigate a poltergeist in East London’s Stratford, in full evening dress after a night’s drinking. They survived, damaged, but no-one knew what had happened to the car, though it seemed perfectly untouched. The story now links up with Peter’s passion for driving fast cars that he’ll never be able to afford. Nightingale occasionally lets him use the Folly Jaguar, and how he’s got his hands on the wheel of a vintage 1930s Bentley. But the Bentley takes them to places Peter has never wanted to see in his life.

Issue 3 coming soon…..

Ben Aaronovitch, Rivers of London: Body Work (Titan Comics, 2015)

About Kate

Blogger, lecturer, podcaster, writer, critic, reviewer, researcher (in no particular order) in and on British literary history. Preferred occupation while listening to podcasts: cooking or knitting. Preferred soundtrack while reading: the sound of silence.

3 comments on “Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London: Body Work

  1. Becca
    September 17, 2015

    Oh my, oh my, oh my! I want these so much. I loved Rivers of London and these look equally good.

  2. Kate
    September 17, 2015

    Get thee to Forbidden Planet, I say ….

  3. athling2001
    September 17, 2015

    Sounds good. I’ll have to look it up.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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