‘Come Monday, I get to do some proper policing. Person Unknown has been stabbed to death on the tracks at Baker Street tube. Magic may have been used.’
Person Unknown turns out to be the son of a US senator and before you can say ‘international incident’, FBI agent Kimberley Reynolds is on DC Grant’s case.
And down in the dark, in the tunnels of London’s Underground, the buried rivers, the Victorian Sewers, there are whispers of vengeance from beyond the grave.
I bought this book on a complete whim, after finding myself sucked into WHSmiths while I waited for a train by the tempting offer of BUY ONE GET ONE HALF PRICE on all selected fiction. I’d noticed that The Black Path by Asa Larsson was one of the selected titles, and grabbed in with joy, having had it on my To Read list for a few months now. Looking around for a second book to take advantage of the offer, I was drawn to Whispers Underground (A DC Grant Mystery) by its cover, a hastily hand sketched yet heavily detailed map of the London underground, the fact that Aaronovitch wrote it (I LOVE his episodes of Doctor Who) and the pull out quote on the blurb which said that the DC Grant novels were ‘what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the fuzz’. I love Harry Potter. I love police stories. I had high hopes.
Unfortunately, I can’t say this particular story lived up to that commendation, or indeed its own synopsis. I’m disappointed to say that I almost enjoyed reading the back cover more than the book itself, and was left with a feeling of what could have been rather than what actually was. The synopsis is short, snappy, intriguing and exciting – take for example the extract ‘’Come Monday I get to do some proper policing. Person Unknown has been stabbed to death on the tracks at Baker Street. Magic may have been involved’’. The story inside is drawn out, faltering, at times boring and at other times distinctly unbelievable. I love fantasy and I love magic, but the story has to make me believe it’s real.
Whispers Underground focuses on a batch of supposedly ‘magic’ pottery, a shard of which has been used as a murder weapon to kill the son of an important US senator. The only people that can detect this ‘magic’ are protagonist DC Grant, his contemporary, and his supervisor, who all belong to a branch of police dealing with ‘supernatural occurrences in crime’. That the magic is never really manifested except as a ‘feeling’ by Grant and his buddies, or occasionally as a rather loud and innocuous sounding noise that fills the streets of London, is one of the main reasons I lost interest – it just wasn’t spectacular enough, falling short of what I’d imagined when I picked the book from the shelf.
DC Grant himself is a reasonable enough character, admittedly having some quite funny lines and clever dialogue, and as the main narrator makes himself well known to the reader and easy to like. Because we only ever see his colleagues as he sees and interacts with them, I never felt as connected to them as I did to him, which also contributed to my feeling of distance from the story. I felt that the identity of the victim as a Senator’s son was never made truly realistic; events seemed run a lot more smoothly than I expect they would if this were the case in real life, and the involvement of the FBI through the character of Agent Kimberly Reynolds was extremely far removed from the portrayal of security services in other popular crime thrillers and rather annoyed me whenever she was mentioned.
The conclusion was a relief in coming, given how much the story seems to drag out the simple premise and rather unexciting original murder. There were no real twists that had me gasping in surprise, no turns that had me gripped and unable to put the book down. I hate finishing a book feeling unsatisfied, but unfortunately that was the dominant feeling upon reaching the last page of Whispers Underground. Judging by the rather gushing reviews and praise for the book both on its cover inset and from my fellow readers on Goodreads, I seem to be in the minority by disliking the book, and it got me wondering whether I was simply missing a trick, whether I was expecting too much, or whether I merely wasn’t in the mood when I read it, but after a second flick through I retained the feeling of just being a little bit disappointed. Whispers Underground has some good lines and a few original ideas, yet to me fell short of being a crime filled magical thrill of a ride.
I’d read Aaronovitch again to see if Whispers Underground was simply a blip in my taste, as as I mentioned briefly before I LOVE his writing for Doctor Who, and don’t want to strike off an author based on a single book that I didn’t like. If anyone wants to try and convert me by recommending another book in the series that they think is better, I’m open to giving everything a second chance!