‘The Hanging Tree’: A New ‘Peter Grant’ Mystery

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Peter Grant Series
Image: (c) Gollancz, Orion Publishing Group

It is a little known fact that Isaac Newton, after creating the foundations of classical mechanics, went on to codify the principles of magic that until today serve as basis for wizards around the world, good and evil alike. It is another little known fact that rivers–or at least some rivers–have river gods and river goddesses that walk the earth in human form. Some of them even with a degree from Oxford University, but all with the power to cause massive flooding when irritated, as well as the ability to bend the mind of mere mortals to their will as they please.

There are many more surprising facts that constable Peter Grant of the London Metropolitan Police has to come to grips with, after a ghost provides him with an eyewitness account of a ghastly murder. Before he quite understands what has happened, Peter finds himself transferred to the “Folly,” a one-man department of the London Met that deals with ghostly witnesses and other weird stuff, all the time keeping weirdness off the record, on the Q.T., and very hush-hush. DCI Nightingale of the Folly takes Peter under his wings and makes him his magic apprentice, while Peter tries to introduce at least a semblance of modern police procedure into a police department, which had remained essentially unchanged since the end of World War II.

Such is the premise of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series of books about PC Peter Grant and the Folly, which got started with Midnight Riot (published as Rivers of London in UK)  in 2011 and now has reached its sixth installment with The Hanging Tree.

The books are written as first-person narratives through the eyes of Peter Grant. Peter Grant, I am delighted to say, is a bit of a geek. He does know his Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who–little wonder, since author Ben Aaronovitch has a past writing for Doctor Who. Ben Aaronovitch and, by extension, Peter Grant are also architecture geeks: As the stories unfold in and around London, there is plenty of opportunity for Grant’s opinionated commentary on architectural sins (frequent) as well as pearls (not so frequent). A further aspect that appeals to geeks and nerds certainly is Grant’s insistence on examining magic and its effects with scientific methods. What can the laws of thermodynamics tell us about the effects of magic? What exactly is the radius within which the application of magic fries all powered electric devices?

The books’ original mix of the modern world with arcane myths and magic as well as the unique voice of Peter Grant created by Ben Aaronovitch make the Rivers of London series a very enjoyable read. The newly released The Hanging Tree is no exception–however, if you are new to the series, you must start with one of the early books, preferably Rivers of London. In The Hanging Tree, Aaronovitch has pretty much given up on trying to get new readers up to speed: The Hanging Tree continues a story line about the Folly’s arch nemesis, “the faceless man” of books two (Moon over Soho) and four (Broken Homes). Too much has happened to make everything understandable for readers without knowledge of these earlier books.

So if you are new to the series and enjoy or at least tolerate a bit of horror (books one and two of the series feature some scenes that are a bit on the gory side, the later books less so), check out Midnight Riot: You are in for a treat! If you know the series and have been waiting for news from the Folly, The Hanging Tree will not disappoint you: Peter Grant and Thomas Nightingale are back with their customary panache.

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