Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch. Gollancz, £14.99
Reviewed by Jan Edwards
For the uninitiated, Foxglove Summer is the fifth Peter Grant volume. We catch up with our perennially reluctant hero PC Grant, England’s youngest wizard, moping over the sudden and devastating (not to mention physically painful) betrayal by PC Lesley May. May was Grant’s Met. Police partner and fellow student of magic at the Folly (Broken Homes; Peter Grant book 4). Yes, there is a lot a back story, as you would expect from the fifth book in any series, but not so much that the unacquainted could not catch up very quickly. We are expertly drip-fed all the facts we need to know about Grant’s boss, the enigmatic Chief Inspector Nightingale, head of the ‘Falcon (spooky stuff) Department’ based at the Folly, and we finally gain some hints to the origins of the Folly’s doubly mysterious and patently scary housekeeper, Molly.
That is the Folly crew all assembled – and off we go on another day in the life of a wizardly cop; except that The Nightingale is sending PC Grant, the archetypical London boy, to the depths of rural Herefordshire to cover routine enquiries into the disappearance of two young girls. Routine enough, according to Nightingale, too give Grant the space to recover his shattered wits. It soon becomes apparent that this is far from routine. Grant takes a hesitant lead into investigations of the magical kind, aided by the local plod, DS Dominic Croft, in a frantic search for the missing girls that is increasingly looking both less and more lethal than he ever expected – and all trails lead to Pokehouse Wood’s long association with the weird and dangerous. Meanwhile Beverley Brook, Grant’s genus loci girlfriend, arrives apparently to lend her support, whilst simultaneously following her own agenda, and the errant PC May is sending Grant texts from places unknown, warning of dire thing yet to come!
Grant, a student wizard, is inexpert in his craft so that his well-being can never taken for granted. He does not/cannot ‘zap’ his way out of things as heroes in these things so often do. Instead he must rely on his wits, hard work, judicious slices of luck and all the help he can get from the otherworldly community to get by.
Foxglove Summer is urban fantasy the way it should be. The kind of book that keeps you up way past 3.00 am because you really need to ‘read to the end of this chapter’ and then the next … and the next… Aaronovitch’s laconic humour is skilfully left inside the head and lips of his viewpoint character and adds yet another level of entertainment – though this is not ‘comic’ fantasy. Foxglove Summer is well paced and engrossing. You do not have to have read the previous four volumes as it stands on its own well enough, though having the history at hand is always going to help. A fun read and thoroughly recommended.