Friday, 3 April 2015

The Rivers of London (and the subterranean city life)

After visiting a mate in Norfolk a few years ago, I found I had a spare hour to kill in London, so I wandered around the Thames where I’d worked at a few pubs and bars in the early eighties. I very quickly became lost, and even found myself on the wrong side of the river. I finally realised my whole memory of how to get around the city was actually based on the Tube map, and not on any surface reality at all.

I finally found one of my old workplaces. On this sweaty summer’s day, it was filled with lager louts and European sightseers. The floor was sticky and the staff frazzled. I had trouble recognising the location let alone the pub, a place where I’d appeared as a broke colonial one foggy autumn morning, daunted by the sight of the domineering publican in his three-piece suit lording it over the staff, insisting we show respect as we were in full view of the Houses of Parliament. My services ceased to be required after I called a customer “mate”.

But of course, in London nothing is quite as it seems. The Lord of his Manor was in fact a notorious drunk and womaniser, who held court in the latter hours of the evening in an increasing sway of plummy vowels and dribble, with one hand on a scotch and the other searching for the nearest bottom. He was finally pulverised by someone’s husband, and lost the pub.

When I saw Ben Aaroniovitch’s Rivers of London, I was particularly impressed with the cover - a map not so much of the streets of London, but its rivers, many of which now run underground. I was intrigued by the difference between the surface topography and the subterranean, and bought the book.

And, in a background sense only, it did enlighten me about what lies beneath the city. Of course, in a crime and mystery sense, it also dealt with what lies beneath the society: in this case, sleaze, power and magic.

I enjoyed it as a good and easy read with a likeable protagonist. So much so, I bought the next two books in the series, Whispers Underground and Moon over Soho, only ten dollars each at Berkelouw in Leichhardt.  There are now two more books, Broken Homes and Foxglove Summer. The rate he's churning them out, there will no doubt be a TV series soon.

It has been described as a cross between Harry Potter and The Bill, but is more sexy and stylish than either of those, without the gravitas of the former or the desperate reality of latter.

If my old boss was in the book, he would have had his face sucked off by a demon in the form of a sexy young woman, rather than just being beaten up by her husband.

And he probably would have deserved it.


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