Book Review: False Value

False Value (following the hallowed footsteps of its seven preceding books) is an utterly binge-readable addition to the crime and detective genre … but with a thoroughly grown-up foot in the ‘fantasy’ field.  Unlike your usual crime books, this one isn’t restricted to the realms of the possible and conceivable. Instead, it’s a brilliantly active imagination somehow harnessed and transcribed onto the page. Only in this London could some 19th century fairground mechanalia be the key to unlocking true artificial intelligence … with a malevolent helping hand … and a smattering of the Met’s finest (albeit magically-trained) police to stop it. Absolutely devoured it!

crime | mystery | urban fantasy | magical realism

Rating: 5 out of 5.

dust cover blurb

Peter Grant is facing fatherhood and an uncertain future with equal amounts of panic and enthusiasm. Rather than sit around, he takes a job with émigré Silicon Valley tech genius Terrence Skinner’s brand-new London start-up – the Serious Cybernetics Company. 

Drawn into the orbit of Old Street’s famous ‘silicon roundabout’, Peter must learn how to blend in with people who are both civilians and geekier than he is. Compared to his last job, Peter thinks it should be a doddle. But magic is not finished with Mama Grant’s favourite son. 

Because a secret is hiding somewhere in the building. A technology that stretches back to Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage and forward to the future of artificial intelligence. A secret that is just as magical as it technological – and just as dangerous.

Author – Ben Aaronovitch | Published by – Gollancz / Orion Publishing Group Ltd in February 2020 | Pages – 404 (hardback)

my thoughts

False Value is the eighth instalment in the brilliant Rivers of London series. Without exception, each book has become a Sunday Times best seller, and with good reason.  

If you’re not familiar with the series, it follows the career of probationary Metropolitan Police Constable Peter Grant whose career path takes an unexpected turn when he discovers that London’s ghosts are surprisingly reliable witnesses – ‘unexpected’ in the sense that Peter had no idea he could see, let alone talk to, the lingering dead.  Before his colleagues can laugh him out of the station, Peter is drafted to The Folly; an officially unofficial unit of the Met Police dedicated to investigating magical crimes and “weird shit” (to coin one of Peter’s best descriptions of his work).

Yes, these books are inescapably a ‘fantasy’. BUT…

…the Rivers of London books are the perfect detective series for readers who love the crime genre but want to try something fresh and new.  If you’re feeling a tad jaded by the proliferation of crime novels where the brilliant (but invariably grumpy) lead detective is riddled with seemingly endless ‘issues’ in their private life, then these are the books for you. They are witty, fast-paced, savvy, and packed with perfectly-pitched characters.  

I’ve absolutely loved every single one of the books; to the point where I was practically emerging out through my letter box on the day my copy of False Value was due to arrive.  Our postman is very long suffering … although my annual gift of a bottle of wine seems to help smooth-out any unease.

Anyway, on with my review of this particular book…

Peter’s world has changed somewhat; the single man-about-town is about to become a father to twins, (whose mother, incidentally, is the goddess of the river Beverley Brook), and he’s working in security at SCC; the Serious Cybernetics Corporation, with ‘poorly socialised technophiliacs’ (Peter’s term).  Or so we’re led to believe.  I heaved a huge sigh of relief when it became clear that Peter is still in the employment of The Folly … he’s just getting stuck in to his first ‘official’ undercover role.

Australian tech billionaire, Terence Skinner, has set up shop on Silicone Roundabout, having made a hasty and unexpected exit from Silicone Valley in the USA.  On paper, the Serious Cybernetics Corporation is a bonafide IT and software company.  The SCC has the most enviable array of vending machines, a vernacular that bears more than a passing nod to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and a tradition for first-day new starters that would render any introvert a gibbering wreck.

Security in the building is as top-of-the-range as you’d expect for a tech giant, but there’s something about the additional layers shielding a top floor that pique Peter’s interest. And when he happens upon a familiar face who’s as keen to reach the next level as Peter is, the race is on to discover what’s behind that door … and why all the secrecy?

A seemingly unrelated previous encounter suddenly takes on a new and urgent importance: only in Peter Grant’s world could a19th century fairground organ, ghost-trapping rose jars, and a music book named after Ada Lovelace, be crucial in the global race to triumph and dominate the world’s artificial intelligence race. Peter’s investigation leads him to the London Library where he’s and out-magicked and out-run by Jacob and/or Stephen (not a typo!); an American ‘practitioner’ who’s recently arrived on British shores with Mrs Chin – a lethal Librarian of deceptively maturing years.

Because when he’s not being ‘the most dull tech billionaire’, Terence Skinner appears to be making remarkable progress in the AI race … and the American’s have got wind of it.  Following an attempt on his life by a seemingly possessed member of SCC staff, Skinner takes Peter into his confidence and permits him access to that top floor, introducing him to Deep Thought – his own AGI (Artificial General Intelligence, to attribute its correct name) entity which appears to be entirely and independently self aware.  Whilst it seems he has succeeded, it soon becomes clear that his progress has been assisted by something other worldly, and not exactly friendly.

“The problem with trouble-shooting is that trouble shoots back”

False Value is a rollicking, pacey read that will have you ducking for (bullet proof) cover if ever you hear a drone buzzing overhead.  And you’ll certainly never underestimate the glare of an out-of-sorts librarian again.  Like all its predecessors, this latest instalment draws upon genuine historical events, and London landmarks, to weave a thoroughly up-to-the-minute mystery. Peter Grant’s sardonic wit punctuates the story with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments – not least of which refer to Beverley’s expanding baby bulge, and his Mum’s predilection for cooking volcanically hot, spicy food …

“Guleed arrived bearing coffee and demanding fritters.  I opened the plastic container I’d bought specially and offered the contents to Gulled, who immediately popped a whole one in her mouth and chewed slowly. Post-mortems, however fresh the corpse, leave an unmistakable and persistent smell in the nostrils.  Guleed and me had recently discovered that slowly eating one of my mum’s cowpea fritters served to completely obliterate that horrible combination smell of disinfectant and off meat.  True, it obliterated the rest of your sense of small as well, but that was a small price to pay.”

If this is your first dip into a Rivers of London novel, can I politely suggest you step back from the edge?  False Value is a fantastic addition to the series … but … so much water has passed under the bridge(s) in books #1 to #7, and they play an important part in the continuation of the story in this, book #8.  I’m not saying this to be awkward; I’m suggesting it because the smart-mouthed foxes, walking/talking rivers, mentions of Mr Punch, and the two distinctly pale and ‘toothy’ ladies at The Folly, will mean so much more to you if you know their backstories.

the Rivers Of London series

I’ve listed each of the preceding books in this series, along with the back-cover blurb to give you an idea of how the series pans out. Each book cover thumbnail is a clickable link which will take you to the GoodReads website where you can read more about the story.

Book #1

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

Book #2

The song. That’s what London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant first notices when he examines the corpse of Cyrus Wilkins, part-time jazz drummer and full-time accountant, who dropped dead of a heart attack while playing a gig at Soho’s 606 Club. The notes of the old jazz standard are rising from the body—a sure sign that something about the man’s death was not at all natural but instead supernatural.

Body and soul. They’re also what Peter will risk as he investigates a pattern of similar deaths in and around Soho. With the help of his superior officer, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, and the assistance of beautiful jazz aficionado Simone Fitzwilliam, Peter will uncover a deadly magical menace—one that leads right to his own doorstep and to the squandered promise of a young jazz musician: a talented trumpet player named Richard “Lord” Grant—otherwise known as Peter’s dear old dad. 

Book #3

It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher—and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom—if it exists at all—is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and—as of now—deadliest subway system in the world.

At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah—that’s going to go well. 

CONFESSION! Having just implored you to start at the beginning, I’ll hold my hands up and say that my introduction to this series actually started with Whispers Under Ground. It’s still my favourite of all the books, and it hooked me in so completely that I went straight back to the shop to buy books one and two … and devoured them straight afterwards.

Book #4

A mutilated body in Crawley. Another killer on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil; an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man? Or just a common or garden serial killer?

Before PC Peter Grant can get his head round the case a town planner going under a tube train and a stolen grimoire are adding to his case-load.

So far so London. But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans and inhabited by the truly desperate. Is there a connection?

And if there is, why oh why did it have to be South of the River?

Book #5

In the fifth of his bestselling series Ben Aaronovitch takes Peter Grant out of whatever comfort zone he might have found and takes him out of London – to a small village in Herefordshire where the local police are reluctant to admit that there might be a supernatural element to the disappearance of some local children. But while you can take the London copper out of London you can’t take the London out of the copper.

Travelling west with Beverley Brook, Peter soon finds himself caught up in a deep mystery and having to tackle local cops and local gods. And what’s more all the shops are closed by 4pm …

Book #6

The Hanging Tree was the Tyburn gallows which stood where Marble Arch stands today. Oxford Street was the last trip of the condemned. Some things don’t change. The place has a bloody and haunted legacy and now blood has returned to the empty Mayfair mansions of the world’s super-rich. And blood mixed with magic is a job for Peter Grant.

Peter Grant is back as are Nightingale et al. at the Folly and the various river gods, ghosts and spirits who attach themselves to England’s last wizard and the Met’s reluctant investigator of all things supernatural. 

Book #7

Join Peter Grant, detective and apprentice wizard, for a brand new case . . .

Martin Chorley, aka the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run. Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring Chorley to justice.

But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that Chorley, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan. A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees.

To save his beloved city Peter’s going to need help from his former best friend and colleague–Lesley May–who brutally betrayed him and everything he thought she believed in. And, far worse, he might even have to come to terms with the malevolent supernatural killer and agent of chaos known as Mr Punch . . .

3 thoughts on “Book Review: False Value

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