Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

Through most of the first six books in the Rivers of London series, a rogue magician known as the Faceless Man has been leading the mystical branch of the Metropolitan Police on a merry chase. Well, not so merry for his many victims. But he’s a formidable practitioner, and while Peter Grant, Nightingale, and company have been able to foil some of his plans, they have not been able to lay a finger on him either magically or legally. Before the beginning of Lies Sleeping the higher ranks of the Met have decided to change that by going on the offensive and leaning on his networks with the Met’s considerable resources. It may not be pretty, it may not be elegant, but it will be — so they hope — inexorable.

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

Peter and colleagues have identified a number of practitioners who learned from the same teacher who trained the Faceless Man. They’re not sure which of them have maintained connections to him, so they have chosen a few to subject to a period of intense scrutiny to see if they get spooked and lead the police to him. The first two passed more or less uneventfully. Lies Sleeping begins with the third, just a few minutes before everything goes, in Peter’s own words, pear-shaped. Peter and Sahra Guleed, his partner on many assignments, are stationed outside the house of one Richard Williams. Nightingale has rung the bell “because we weren’t looking for shock and awe but aiming for sinister and creepy instead. Nightingale is remarkably good at that — I think it’s the accent.” (p. 9) Not long after, Peter senses a use of magic that tells him Nightingale has well and truly cut loose; seconds later, he and Guleed are in a desperate melee with Williams’ nanny, who generally looks human but definitely isn’t. “I could see a wash of crimson around her mouth and chin, and running down the chest of her blue Adidas sweatshirt. I didn’t think it was her blood.” (p. 11) He’s right about that, and right too that his and Guleed’s combined efforts are not enough to hold her.

“Where the fuck is Nightingale?” I asled.
Saving Richard Williams from bleeding out, as it happened.
“She tried to bite his throat right out,” [Detective Constable David] Carey told me. (p. 13)

With that, Lies Sleeping is up and running.

The Folly has gone on the offensive, but the Faceless Man — also known as Martin Chorley — has been pushing his plans forward, too. The challenge for the members of the Met is to figure out what they are, and foil them before they come to fruition. Their efforts to flush out Chorley may have pushed him to accelerate parts of his planning, but Peter and company soon find evidence that they were nearly complete already, and the Folly is once again playing catch-up.

It’s a complex case, with many moving parts as the Folly pursues Chorley, Chorley and his allies try to reshape London to their liking, and each side tries to foil the other. Aaronovitch keeps the pieces clicking along without letting up on the humor and groundedness in London detail that are trademarks of the series. Peter’s team have traced one part of the Faceless Man’s schemes to apparent allies in a very high-powered law firm. So well connected that the police force from the City of London want nothing to do with the investigation. The people of the Folly are not deterred.

When dealing with the excessively rich and privileged, you’ve got your two basic approaches. One is to go hard and deliberately working class. A regional accent is always a plus in this. Seawoll has been known to deploy a Mancunian dialect so impenetrable that members of Oasis would have needed subtitles …
That approach only works is the subject suffers from residual middle-class guild — unfortunately the properly posh, the nouveau riche and seniod legal professionals are rarely prey to such weaknesses. For them you have to go in obliquely and with maximum Downton Abbey.
Fortunately for us we have just the man. (p. 134)

But it’s not just Nightingales impeccable upper-classness that clears the way. He and Peter have timed their visit to the law firm for when the security guard at the main entrance was a cousin of Peter’s — “second or third, I forget which” — on his mother’s side. The excessively rich and privileged often forget that the people who work for them have agency and networks of their own.

The observations on police bureaucracy continues, too:

“Intelligence led” is one of those dire phrases that police officers feel the need to include in their operational plans. This is either because they feel senior officers might otherwise assume that they are stupidity led, or because it’s an article of faith among the rank and file that everyone above superintendent has had their sense of irony surgically removed. Often the word “proactive” is added at the front to create a kind of litany. O lead us itelligently into the valley of the shadow of limited resources so that we might make our crime targets before the end of the Home Office reporting period — Amen. (p. 180)

And sometimes there are bits of Londoners just being Londoners. Peter is at the intercom of an apartment building, having identified himself as police, trying to persuade a person with “an elderly male voice with a distinctive Caribbean accent” to buzz him in.”

“What kind of concern [for a neighbor] exactly?” he asked.
“We think she might be in danger,” I said.
“From whom?”
“Some quite serious criminals.”
“Show me your identification.”
So I got out my warrant card and held it up while he peered at it.
“How come a nice boy like you join the police?”
“I didn’t join the police,” I said. “They joined me.”
He gave this some consideration before nodding and opening the door to let me in. (pp. 206–207)

It will not be a surprise that the folks from the Folly do in the end crack the case, and London is not transformed to the Faceless Man’s liking. But the journey to that resolution is full of surprises and reverses. Characters from earlier parts of the series reappear, and prices have to be paid for help received. Aaronovitch remains unafraid of inflicting significant changes on his characters, one of them on the book’s very last page.

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