Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of Lodon series wrapped up a seven book long story arc in his most recent full length novel Lies Sleeping. The Rivers of London series, a fantasy crime mash up follows the exploits of Peter Grant who is a member of The Folly, a secret part of the British Police that deals with the supernatural. Over the course of the seven books and a number of graphic novels and novellas, Peter’s skills as a wizard and a police detective improve as the dangers he faced became more deadly. Which brings us to Aaronovitch’s latest novella The October Man, set in the same universe but another part of the world.
Tobias Winter is Grant’s equivalent in Germany. While Winter and his Director know about The Folly, its boss Nightingale and Peter Grant, the knowledge does not run both ways. But this detail is mere background and likely to be relevant only to future books set in this universe. The October Man is, for the most part, an investigation of the bizarre. Tobias is called out to the wine-growing town of Trier where a dead man has been found covered in botrytis fungus to the point where it has stopped him breathing. Together with his enthusiastic and unfazed local police partner Vanessa Sommer, Tobias starts to investigate and they end up engaging with local river spirits, finding another dead body and grappling with a rogue magic user.
While the story is engaging, the disappointing aspect of The October Man is the first person narrative voice of Tobias Winter. Although clearly coming from a different culture and background to Peter Grant and not as steeped in popular culture, the tone of the narration is very similar. While Tobias is supposed to be the German equivalent of Grant it might have been better if his voice didn’t come across as a slightly (emphasis here on the ‘slightly’) more serious version of his English counterpart. Similarly, the story itself and the does not deviate enough from the template of the Peter Grant tales to set it apart.
The October Man could be read as a stand alone novella. Using Vanessa as stand in for the reader allows Aaronovitch to provide any necessary exposition for new readers. But the book leans heavily on the world created in the Rivers of London series and there are plenty of throwaway comments and easter eggs for fans. This novella is filling in parts of the world only tangentially referenced in Rivers of London, introducing a new milieu and characters, setting the scene for more international magical mayhem and laying the groundwork for the next few books in this always enjoyable series.