By Ben Aaronovitch

JABberwocky Literary Agency


238pp/$13.99/August 2020

Takes from the Folly
Cover by Jayel Draco

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

While the majority of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London stories are novels, he has supplemented those with a couple of novellas and several graphic novels. In addition, he has written a baker's dozen stories set in the world, only half of which focus on Peter Grant, allowing Aaronovitch to explore his world when Grant isn't around, or at least isn't the primary character. All of these stories have been collected in Tales from the Folly: A Rivers of London Short Story Collection, which allows the reader to have all of these previously rare tales in one convenient place.

The first Peter Grant story, "The Home Crowd Advantage," was written to coincide with the 2012 London Olympics. Although Aaronovitch sets the action during the Olympics, his tie to the event is really firmly rooted in the previous London Games in 1948, with a French magician returning to the scene of the crime in order to gain closure for himself and, he presumes, Nightingale. Instead, the French magician finds himself facing Peter Grant, who he completely underestimates. Aaronovitch has described the story as non-canonical, but it works well as a short story introduction to both Grant and the world in which he moves.

"The Domestic" opens with Grant called in to what should be a fairly standard domestic dispute, except that when the original investigators looked into it, the injured woman was clearly alone the entire time. Naturally, given Grant's involvement, ghosts were involved, as well as the woman's reticence to discuss the issue, both because of the ghosts and because domestic victims so often refuse to tell their story for fear of reprisals. Aaronovitch's solution to the issue is interesting, but in the end it leaves the reader wanting more detail of both Mrs. Fellaman and the spirit she has to contend with.

"The Cockpit" is set in a bookstore where Aaronovitch once worked. A clerk working late at night comes across poltergeist activity and Grant and May are called in to resolve the issue. Remaining in the store overnight, they learn the history of the store and the reasons for the activity. While it is good to seen non-malevolent activity, the solution seems a little too pat and Grant and May are able to figure things out easily.

The magic in "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Granny" is relatively low-key, just enough to get Grant involved when he tries to help out a couple of stranded travelers at a service station. The story is a great look at policing as public service when the situation with the two men and their mother doesn't quite turn out to be as any of them realize. Grant displays what he describes as discretion to achieve a conclusion to the story.

"King of the Rats" has Grant dealing with a man who seems to think he is some sort rat, although he is aware that he is also a human. Getting the Rivers Ty and Fleet involved in the case also, it is clear that he is up against a new type of magic that he has not previously come into contact with, but what that is, isn't exactly clear. The story ends so abruptly that it is either a major production flaw in the book or is indicative that Grant has come up against something he can't handle, which points to one of the problems with a first person narrator. The story leaves the reader wondering what actually happened.

There are strong similarities between "A Rare Book of Cunning Device" and "The Cockpit," with one set in a bookstore, the other in a library, but both involving an overnight stay by Grant among the tomes. Appearing in this volume in such close proximity to the other story, as well as given the set-up for all of the Peter Grant tales, "A Rare Book of Cunning Device" confounds by playing against the expectations Aaronovich has set up and introduces an entirely different type of menace to his world. The inclusion of Harold Postmartin gives the character a nice spotlight.

Not only does "A Dedicated Follower of Fashion" take its title from the Kinks' song, but the narrator describes himself as the song's inspiration. Set in the 1960s with a different viewpoint character, it further opens new doors on the London of Aaronovitch's works, in this case a drug dealer who has run afoul of his creditors. A flood in the basement of the flat the narrator is staying at undermines his chance to get out from under their thumb, but something strange begins to happen behind the basement door, leading t to a choice between the possibly eldritch horror growing in the dank or the goons who will kneecap him should he be found. Aaronovitch also tosses in a fair bit of magical shop into the mix, providing an atmospheric tale of the 1960s.

"Favourite Uncle" is a reasonably cute story in which Abigail is found selling her ties to magic as a junior detective to her friends, in this case a girl who wants to learn the identity of the uncle she only sees at Christmas, but who doesn't actually seem to fit into the family tree. Abigail's research is mostly mundane in nature and eventually a visit to her friend's family on Christmas results in a discussion with the uncle. His is a subtle magic that slowly reveals itself in a conversation. As with many of the stories in the collection, the ending hints at what it to follow and raises questions that Aaronovitch leaves unanswered.

In the Peter Grant novels, Nightingale often discusses German magicians and "Vanessa Sommer's Other Christmas List" focuses on German magic, although Vanessa isn't a magician. She has been made aware of magic in the world and has determined that she wants to learn if it is ass rampant as she thinks, particularly around her home town. She is less than successful, but at the same time comes to understand that folk magic is understood and accepted by people who simply view it as another aspect of nature, leading to an interesting concept that Aaronovitch could easily explore in his works that would cast an entirely new light on them.

"Three Rivers, Two Husbands and a Baby" is the story of a country wedding that mixes the local river goddesses with normal life. Detectives Dominic and Victor have invited the supernatural to their wedding and a year later discover that there might be a price to pay as an orphan is found who needs parents and the river goddesses decide that the two would be perfect for raising the infant, who is the spirit of the River Lugg.

The collection ends with three "moments," basically short vignettes which aren't quite stories, but offer a look into Peter Grant's world. "Moment One: London September 1966" is set shortly before "A Dedicated Follower of Fashion" and is a glimpse at a pivotal moment in Nightingale's life when he begins to enter the modern world. "Moment Two: Reynolds-Florence, Az. 2014" revisits Kimberly Reynolds back in the United States trying to make sense of what she saw during the events in Whispers Under Ground with the more mundane reality she finds back in the U.S. where she faces off against murderers rather than the supernatural. Finally, "Moment Three: Tobias Winter-Meckenheim 2012" is a brief story that focuses on German detective Tobias Winter and the realization by German authorities that Nightingale has taken on an apprentice, and what that might mean for the world of magic.

Many of the stories in Tales from the Folly offer further exploration of the world of Peter Grant, however the stories often seem to be mere snippets, ending before they adequately explore the questions they raise. The fact that only about half the stories focus on Grant is a feature, since it allows Aaronovitch to focus on other aspects of his world without being limited to Grant's point of view. Whether or not these stories spur additional explorations of what is happening in the world when Grant isn't around, or even giving Grant something new to look into, is a question for Aaronovitch to answer with future works.

The Home Crowd Advantage Favourite Uncle
The Domestic Vanessa Sommer's Other Christmas List
The Cockpit Three Rivers, Two Husbands and a Baby
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Granny Moment One: London September 1966
King of Rats Moment Two: Reynolds-Florence, Az. 2014
A Rare Book of Cunning Device Moment Three: Tobias Winter-Meckenheim 2012
A Dedicated Follower of Fashion

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