Peter Grant and partner Lesley May are at the Folly practicing their magic skills and researching an Oxford dining club called the Little Crocodiles. Magic — Lesley is doing more careful, disciplined, and therefore somewhat more skilled work than Peter. Their professor was illicitly teaching them Newtonian magic.
They’re interrupted by a call to an auto accident, with the drunk driver dead and the other driver, who was speeding, not badly hurt. And yet there’s blood in the car. Turns out it’s not the driver’s blood. Whose is it?
Oh, and the driver, Robert Weil, is connected to the Little Crocodiles.
When they find a body, a woman whose face has apparently been shot off with a shotgun, Dr. Walid reaches a disturbing conclusion: her DNA suggests she’s a product of what they’ve come to call “the strip club of Dr. Moreau,” which featured human-animal chimeras. That’s an alarming situation to be facing.
But a policeman, even one dealing in magic, rarely has just one case on his plate. Sgt. Jaget Kumar of the British Transportation Police alerts Peter to the very odd apparent suicide of Richard Lewis, a city planner for the Southwark Council, on the tracks of an underground station. The body of a burglar is found in Bromley, burnt from the inside. A young and apparently healthy real estate auditor dies of a heart attack. A stolen German grimoire is found and traced to the late architect Eric Stromberg, who built Skygardens, a council housing estate where there’s conflict between developers and residents.
What’s the chances all these cases and weird events are unrelated?
Peter and Lesley suspect the Faceless Man, who has been a growing threat. They move into a flat in the Skygardens, undercover, and start quietly investigating. This is also how Peter learns that off-duty, Lesley is spending a lot of time with Zach Palmer, which strikes him as really odd, but not really a concern. She’s an adult and a good police officer, right?
In the course of all this, Peter is in the midst of his mandatory safety training, and has to make those classes, and with multiple dead bodies, he’s also doing a lot of relatively routine police procedural stuff, which he hates, but knows is necessary. Lesley is better at this, too.
When Peter figures out what’s really going on at Skygardens, he finds disaster about to break out, and no time left to prevent it in.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of what happens. Have I mentioned the Russian nightwitch? Beverly Brook’s return from up north? Peter’s scientific experiments in magic detection? Nightingale’s demonstration of the fact that his fussy manner doesn’t interfere with him being a very effective practitioner of magic, in what might be the book’s best scene?
There’s also another rooftop confrontation, just Peter and the Faceless Man, in the course of which Peter gets a heartbreaking surprise.
It’s altogether a well-written book, with well developed, emotionally complex characters, and it’s done with a light hand. We get the message; we don’t get pounded on the head with it. It’s leavened with a good deal of subtle humor, too, even after it takes a more serious tone in the book’s second half. It’s also a book that takes seriously the problems and complexities of the lower economic strata of society, again, without being too heavy-handed.
Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, as usual, does an excellent job with the narration.
I bought this audiobook.
(Penguin Audio, 2014)