One of the definitive aspects of Ben Aaronovitch‘s PETER GRANT series is the fact that it’s set in the big smoke (aka London, for all you non-Londoners). So it may come as a surprise to discover that Foxglove Summer (2014), the fifth instalment of the series, is actually set in the countryside. But don’t be fooled into thinking this is story about sleepy village life and the occasional nosy neighbour. Far from it. Peter Grant is back along with a myriad of supernatural problems, and he’s just as incompetent as he’s always been…
Two eleven-year-old girls have gone missing in the rural town of Leominster, Herefordshire. Constable Peter Grant is sent on a routine assignment to check up on an old wizard living in the area, but he finds himself getting dragged into the missing persons case. When a dead mobile phone turns up, Peter suspects its microchip has been fried by magic, and he enlists the help of Beverley Brook — sassy river goddess from the first few books — to try and untangle the mystery.
There are a few new additions to the cast in Foxglove Summer: Hugh Oswald is the said old wizard living in Leominster and his daughter, Melissa, is a sensual, mysterious woman who can allegedly control a hive of bees (though this is always left a little ambiguous). These characters begin with a lot of potential and Aaronovitch sets them up to have some great story lines, but they’re never entirely seen through. Their plot lines just meander half-heartedly until they fizzle out. One new character who does come to fruition, however, is Dominic, a local copper who works alongside Peter to try and solve the case of the missing girls. He’s both sympathetic and funny, plus he has a hilariously bourgeois boyfriend that adds a nice comic dimension (and one that isn’t just laughing at Peter’s failures).
If you remember, we left the previous book, Broken Homes, on a mammoth of a cliffhanger: Lesley May — Peter’s friend and co-worker — sold him out to the all-evil Faceless Man. Readers will be disappointed to hear that this plot thread is not picked up at all. This makes the cliffhanger seem like even more of a dirty trick — Aaronovitch has used it to tantalise readers through two finales, and he will no doubt lose some readers that no longer want to be strung along with no rewards.
Saying that, I’m going to put something controversial out there: I think Foxglove Summer might be the best novel in the series so far. I really did enjoy it immensely. Though being set in London was one of the series’ greatest strengths, they countryside setting does not detract from the story at all. And what is perhaps most engaging is the mystery of the crime itself, which has in previous books taken a bit of a back seat or suffered from lacklustre plotting. And speaking of plot, Aaronovitch has kept it tight (for once). Excellent pacing pulls readers right through to an exciting (if improbable) finale, despite not necessarily getting the answers you were hoping for.
Characterisation is where Aaronovitch’s strengths lie and Peter Grant is back to his absolute best. He is the heart and soul of this series and he treads the line between cocky and compassion, capable and moron just right. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the rest of the series, Foxglove Summer is engaging and well-plotted enough to jump right in. Highly recommended.
Near the end of Foxglove Summer, while Peter is leaning out of a charging pickup truck, hurling impello charms to blast open the gates ahead of them, as they chase a stolen child and a pair of invisible unicorns, a question smacked me across the head: why hasn’t this series been optioned by someone for a TV adaptation? It has everything: stunning visuals, great magic, interesting characters, lots of British history and secret history, and enough snark to satisfy everybody. (So I looked around, and it has.)
Foxglove Summer, the fifth book in Ben Aaronivitch’s police-procedural-with-wizards PETER GRANT series, begins with Peter Grant, copper and wizard-in-training, heading out of his beloved London into the countryside. Peter is a city boy and he isn’t happy about this, but the disappearance of two eleven-year-old girls in the middle of the night in a country village is enough to make his mentor Nightingale think it needs to be checked out, if only to eliminate the possibility of magic. In this case, one of the few surviving magical practitioners from World War II lives close to the scene, and Peter’s primary assignment is to eliminate Hugh Wilson as a suspect. Off goes Peter, resolutely not thinking about the terrible occurrence that ended Broken Homes, the previous book, and resolutely not dealing with his grief, loss and rage.
Hugh Wilson is in his nineties and uses a wheelchair; his granddaughter, who cares for him, is clearly magical herself, but there is no indication that they have anything to do with the missing children. Peter decides to stay anyway, to help the local cops with the case, mostly because it’s about kids. At first, it looks like a routine abduction, with the idea that someone lured Hannah and Nicole, best mates, out of their houses and snatched them. When their cell phones are located and Peter gets a look at them, he realizes magic is involved after all.
Aaronson lays down plenty of bread crumbs for Peter and the reader to follow, and I learned a lot about the British countryside and its forestry policies, although I’m not sure I wanted to know that much. As always, the side characters, particularly local cop Dominic, are wonderfully drawn. Peter’s river goddess girlfriend, Beverly, comes up to join him, and their relationship suddenly gets deeper and stranger as they take the plunge, so to speak.
It’s Beverly who forces Peter to confront his buried feelings about what happened in the previous book (and that situation is far from resolved). Soon Peter, Dominic and Beverly are on the trail of invisible unicorns. Throughout this story we learn more about the power of the river deities, and we finally learn about the battle of Ettersberg and what it is Nightingale is guarding in the basement of the Folly.
I enjoyed this book tremendously as I was reading it, the same way I always do. The ending came up really fast after the climax — like, three pages later, and I was left floundering with lots of unanswered questions. I have read enough of this series to know that some of the mysteries will be addressed in subsequent books, but I had in-story questions. Like, what was up with the foxglove flowers? What has Peter gotten himself into with the rivers, and why isn’t he “free,” as Beverly says at one point? I understand the first part of the abduction, and the human mother’s decision that leads to, kind of, a second abduction… but the original one baffles me, unless an important magical character has an enemy we haven’t seen yet, and it’s never explained why both girls are taken. A strange scene with an ambitious reporter seemed to be complicating the plot; then it’s resolved and I never understood the reason for it unless it was simply malicious mischief.
Still, I liked Foxglove Summer, and I look forward to seeing what Peter’s ongoing relationship with the River Ludd will turn out to be. Even if I’m left a little unsatisfied, this series never disappoints. And I’d love to see how it looks on TV.