DCI Peter Grant returns in both literal and proverbial car crash style in The Hanging Tree, the latest addition to Ben Aaronovitch’s RIVERS OF LONDON series. We left Peter and the gang still reeling from their adventures in Herefordshire in Foxglove Summer (adventures that included a magical rampaging unicorn), but we see a return to the concrete jungle that is London for Peter’s latest escapades.
The Hanging Tree (2016) opens in no-nonsense fashion with Lady Ty, goddess of the river Tyburn, asking Peter for a favour. She wants her daughter Olivia cleared of any involvement with a drugs related crime, which unfortunately just got messy: one teenage Christina Chorley has just died of an overdose and her brain shows signs of magical degradation. Olivia’s shaky legal situation is not made any better when she admits to buying and supplying the drugs and, face-to-face with the wrath of the most formidable river goddess, things are looking characteristically messy for Peter Grant.
RIVERS OF LONDON is a rare breed of series that has stayed consistently engaging and entertaining. The Hanging Tree is the sixth instalment, and whilst Aaronovitch has certainly not disappointed to date, one of the minor problems with the previous novel lay with the notable absence Peter’s former colleague, Lesley May and her defection to über-villain the Faceless Man’s team. This newest instalment delved so quickly into the newest case for Peter to solve that it seemed Aaronovitch was going to continue to avoid the issue of Lesley and said Faceless Man (and drag that cliffhanger out for another bloody book) but this was most certainly not the case. The Faceless Man is back with a vengeance and Lesley is back with a new face, leaving Peter and his superior Nightingale with a whole new host of problems.
Aaronovitch seems to be working under the mantra of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and to some extent I wholeheartedly support this: this series is consistently fun and action-packed and here I am waiting for the seventh book, and whilst Peter’s propensity to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is hilarious, I can’t help feeling that he’s stayed a little too static as a character. It’s very hard to trace any kind of growth arc and in later novels it would be great to see him developed.
Saying that, there’s no doubt Aaronovitch is a master of character. His side cast is delightful, from the eye-rolling Guleed — a new addition to the “weird bollocks” branch of the police, aka The Folly — to über-sassy river goddess Bev. The diversity of his cast is The Hanging Tree’s greatest strength, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see Britain represented as it should be.
The plotting does have a propensity to be a shade over complicated at times — with a seemingly endless supply of suspects, dodgy teenagers and their parents, and otherworldly hangers-on, it did get confusing. Aaronovitch flings names around like nobody’s business and readers will have to flip back through the book to keep track of who’s who — or just give up and go along for the ride, which I suppose works too. But for all the minor faults, Peter and his bevy of crime fighting Practitioners (don’t say magicians) are more than enough to make The Hanging Tree another delightful addition to a series that goes from strength to strength.