Aaronovitch, Ben: Whispers Underground (Rivers of London III) (2012)

whispers underground
I love this German cover, but have no idea who the cover artist is.

Once again Ben Aaronovitch has wowed the market, this time with Whispers Underground. And once again he wowed me.

“Back in the summer I’d made the mistake of telling my mum what I did for a living. Not the police bit, which of course she already knew about having been at my graduation from Hendon, but the stuff about me working for the branch of the Met that dealt with the supernatural. My mum translated this in her head to ‘witchfinder’, which was good because my mum, like most West Africans, considered witchfinding a more respectable profession than policeman.”

By coincidence Ben Aaronovitch and Peter Grant happen to have gone to the same comprehensive: Achland Burghley School. It just so happens that another student at that school has heard of Peter’s witchyness and asks him to come look at a ghost she has found.

Young Abigail Kamara is a delightful 13-year-old. She has all the rebelliousness of a girl turned teenager and a desire to show herself as more adult than she is. But trying that out on Peter just won’t work because she needs Peter way more than he needs here. His growing up on the same estate as Abigail probably also makes him less susceptible to Abigail’s “tantrums”. But one thing is for sure. If Abigail continues on the route she is on today she is going to turn into a version of Peter’s mom when she grows up. She is one fierce kid.

Railway lines under Acland Burghley School
© Copyright Mike Quinn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Peter and Lesley go with Abigail and, what do you know, there they see the ghost – a young white kid getting ready to spray some graffiti on the wall of the tunnel. They watch him get hit by the train then start the whole thing over again.

Lesley is still in the Folly and learning how to live with the face that fell off. Both she and Peter get a lesson in seeing people for who they are rather than how they look by Zachary Palmer, a character that turns up in Whispers Underground. That would be a wonderful lesson for me to be able to learn.

At 0300 one morning DI Miriam Stephanopolous calls Peter because of a murder that seems a bit off at Baker Street Underground Station. (Yes, the same Baker Street that Sherlock Holmes lived on.)

Baker Street underground station
Baker Street underground station
Photograph by Alun Palmer

When Peter goes into the tunnel where the body was hit by the train he discovers a bit of magical pottery in the pool of blood. When it turns out the victim is James Gallagher, the son of an US Senator, the British police have an international incident on their hands.

As is only natural when a body is found on the tracks, the British Transport Police turn up and give us a look at their responsibilities through Kamar – one of their officers. In fact, as Whispers Underground moves along we see that Peter and Kamar find it in themselves to put all inter-departmental rivalries aside and work together toward a solution to James’ murder.

DCI Seawoll makes Peter a part of the Belgravia murder squad so he can keep an eye on him. You might remember both Seawoll and the reason why he is a bit wary of Peter from reading Moon Over Soho. One of DCI Seawoll’s quirks is that he does not want the word “Magic” used anywhere in his vicinity. He knows it is there but he prefers that Peter and Lesley use words like “oddities” instead. It is kind of funny how Seawoll is like the rest of us in denying what is right in front of our faces. In fact, I think this might be one of the great appeals of British literature. They tend to make their characters human rather than glossed up versions of ourselves.

The fascinating thing about large cities is the many “forgotten” parts of them that work as a breeding ground for an author’s fantasy and probably also for the alternate parts of society that need a place to stay. As Peter and Kamar dig into this forgotten world Kamar comes to realise that the BTP might have overlooked certain parts of the underground system.

In their hunt for The Faceless Man Lesley and Peter are sent to Shakespeare Tower at the Barbican to interview a person DCI Nightingale suspects was a member of the Little Crocodiles (a Cambridge dining club).

File:Barbican towers.jpg
Barbican towers / Shakespeare Tower in centre
Photographer: Riodamascus

Being part of The Faceless Man’s gang can be dangerous for a person’s health. But you do not necessarily have to be part of his crew to get hurt, and the methods Faceless uses to keep his identity a secret are generally quite brutal – demon-traps come to mind. I would certainly think twice before joining him in his games. Part of this is because The Faceless Man comes across as amoral rather than sociopathic. That makes him completely unpredictable in a rather frightening manner.

Previously I have stated that Peter is my favorite character. He still is, but in a close second comes the dog Toby. Toby and Molly’s relationship is hilarious. The things she is teaching him to do!!!! A nutty dog for a nutty place like the Folly.

In his usual manner, Aaronovitch managed to prod my sense of the absurd. His sense of humor is perfect. I love it when an author manages to tickle my funny-bone and please my desire for action. Maybe this is why my favorite authors tend to be British. They have a sense of timing that I have not found anywhere else. Ben Aaronovitch handles the dark side of humanity well, well enough that I was unavailable to my family while reading Whispers Underground. I sometimes pity my family for having a book addict for mother and wife.


  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz (4 Oct 2012)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0575097663
  • ISBN-13: 978-0575097667

My review of Rivers of London and Moon over Soho

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