Author: Ben Aaronovitch
Series: Peter Grant #4
Rating: 3.5 stars
A car crash that kills a man who seems to have just murdered a woman with a shotgun to the face. The sudden and unexpected suicide of a man who seems to being controlled by magic. A man who has bust into flames from the inside out. All connected to a stolen rare book on magic. It’s just another day in the life of Peter Grant: police officer and wizard apprentice.
Peter’s investigations lead him to a tower block of flats in Elephant and Castle called Skygarden. Built by a German man as a way to enhance magic through the human activity happening within, Nightingale believes that the Faceless Man is up to something sinister here. Soon the tower block becomes a new home for Peter and Lesley, who go under cover to meet the residents and hunt out who is working for the Faceless Man. But danger lurks around every corner, and Peter soon discovers that no-one can be trusted.
The Peter Grant series is an odd one, and though I have enjoyed all the books (this one included) I can’t help but find problems. First the positives: there are so many great ideas in these books. River Gods, wizards in the police force, a magic sensing dog, Inspector Nightingale a wizard who doesn’t age and helped fight in WWII, and the series villain known as the Faceless Man. The police investigation side is very detailed and practical – if Ben Aaronovitch has never been a policeman then he must know someone in the force, as these are probably the most realistic books about policing I’ve ever read. In Broken Homes the plot is pretty captivating, new fascinating characters are introduced, and certain events at the end are complete game changers which mean the next book is going to be very interesting.
However, there were some problems. Broken Homes is pretty slow at the beginning, with what seems like random murders and cases being investigated. It takes a while before we even see Skygarden and the Faceless Man’s name is mentioned, and feels like Peter is moving aimlessly throughout the first 100 or so pages. It does pick up about half way through, but there doesn’t seem to be a great sense of urgency, not even in the climax where the action really picks up. The biggest problem though is the character of Lesley. Throughout the book I couldn’t help wondering why she doesn’t have a bigger emotional reaction to the events around her. I don’t mean to say as a woman she should be emotional, but it feels like we are only ever told her actions, not her thoughts. Especially after all she has gone through, and the damage to her face – at one point she is chasing a suspect and accidentally leaves her mask behind, and only realises when she is caught in the middle of a crowd, complete with people videoing her. But her reaction is never shown, she just swears, leaves with Peter and the scene moves on. When she reveals that she’s sleeping with a petty thief who helps the police called Zach, we have no idea what exactly their relationship is – is it a real romance? Just a bit of fun? A way to vent her frustration at the world? The discovery that Lesley is in fact working with the Faceless Man seems put in more for shock value more than anything else. Peter assumes that it’s to get her face back, but it could be anything since she never talks about her thoughts. Are these problems because she’s meant to be a closed off character, or is Peter just too selfish to notice the woman he’s meant to be friends with is struggling? It seems that Peter is a fairly self involved character, not just with Lesley, but with Nightingale and other characters like the River Gods.
Despite these problems, I will being reading the next book, but I know that it will be the one that makes or breaks this series. I have my hopes but, realistically, I know the only way to save it is to get inside Lesley’s head more, and have Peter realise how selfish he has been.