Once upon a time, many decades, let alone years ago, when I discovered a new author I would proceed to devour everything with their name on the jacket. I suspect, like a lot of us, that started with Enid Blyton, and progressed to the likes of Alistair MacLean and Ian Fleming, to name some obvious boyish staging posts. Since then it’s applied to Ian McEwan, John Irving and others too numerous to mention. And of course, libraries played a large part in encouraging that habit because that was back when books were a more expensive item relative to available expenditure.
Once I’d found my way inside publishing, my focus tended away from this practice to encompass as many as possible of the publisher’s new titles, although I’d often back track when something piqued my interest. Aware as I was of other – desirable – books being published elsewhere, I had my hands full keeping up with the several lists of HarperCollins.
Fast forward, then to my current employment where I have the pick of the chocolate box but insufficient time to indulge myself. Not even waving, indeed. There have been some splurges along the way – several each of Jodi Picoult, Salley Vickers and Alexander McCall Smith, not least because we were able to enthuse about them in the magazine. But candidates from left field? Very few, fingers of one hand already holding a cup of tea.
And yet here’s the exception that breaks the rule and I blame Lydia. For Lydia it was who came to reading group when we were bereft of ideas and said, ‘Well, we could try Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch which I really enjoyed.’ And on such a pivot are decisions made for better or worse. Better, this time, as we found ourselves swept along by a rollicking plot and a wicked sense of humour with some really imaginative characters. Not all of us concurred which was even better as it gave some grit to the discussion but I for one shared Lydia’s enthusiasm. So much so that I actually bought a copy of Moon over Soho – same characters, same London setting, more magic and rollicksomeness.
Did I mention that these two titles are published by Gollancz, a list noted for its dedication to science fiction? Worry not, we know too well that the vast majority of our readers make the sign of the cross when those two words are mentioned.
PC Peter Grant and friends occupy a contemporary setting albeit with elements of magic, yep magic, that open up parallel worlds of imagination. But Mr Aaronovitch’s martini dry writing means the wry smile that plays across your lips can’t resist bursting into embarrassing laugh out louds, quite possibly at inopportune moments.
So imagine my joy when, back in the early summer, I ventured into the publisher’s office for an insight into their forthcoming season to be met with the hardback of Whispers Underground, wherein Grant and the various denizens of the previous two books take the story to some kind of conclusion – although I wouldn’t be surprised if it conveniently resumed.
And I romped through it. That’s three books by the same author in less than 6 months and if there had been more I would have devoured them as well. So we proudly present in our next issue the third of the series, confident in the knowledge that you don’t have to have read the first two to enjoy Whispers Underground but equally confident that having done so you’ll want to go back and read the first two.
How often do you come across something genuinely different these days? Call me a cynical old hack - if you must – but take my word for it, Ben Aaronovitch is going to be a contender and you heard it here first.