Jazz musicians in the Soho area of London are being murdered, the deaths made to look like heart attacks. Peter Grant, PC and apprentice wizard, though, knows better. By listening closely to the first corpse that turns up - that of Cyrus Wilkins, “part-time drummer and full-time accountant” - to its vestigium (the traces of magic that remain when it’s been used), he hears the old jazz standard “Body and Soul.” The question is, who would be targeting jazz musicians, and why?
In Moon Over Soho, the second urban fantasy in Ben Aaronovich’s Peter Grant series (the first being the brilliant Midnight Riot, released in the UK as Rivers of London), Peter is largely alone in his investigations of the murders of London’s jazz players. That’s because his boss, DCI Nightingale (Britain’s last wizard), and his friend and sidekick, PC Lesley May, are recovering from the ghastly injuries they suffered in Midnight Riot. Those characters are both in Moon Over Soho and are important here, but Peter is definitely the main focus in this sequel and comes into his own as the lead investigator in the suspicious deaths.
Peter’s witty observations about London, its inhabitants and it police force make this urban fantasy come alive, and I enjoyed its blend of fantasy and realism. In Moon Over Soho, we learn much more about Peter’s past - and his father, the legendary jazz musician “Lord” Grant, plays an important role in it. He has an extensive collection of jazz CDs, and his immense knowledge of the London jazz scene (some of which was passed down to Peter too) aids him in his investigation. Peter gives his father a second chance at becoming famous once again, by getting him a gig playing the keyboards for the members of the jazz group that Cyrus played for prior to his untimely death.
Peter really investigates two cases in Moon Over Soho. There’s the one I just mentioned, in which Peter eventually comes to believe that he is looking for a “jazz vampire” sucking the life and magic out of his victims, but also a secondary one: about the appearance of a black magician (or “ethically challenged magical practitioner”) operating in the Soho area. This comes as a shock to Nightingale, who has believed himself to be the last wizard in England; magic in general has been thought to be on the decline worldwide. Trying to figure out where the wizard came from and what his goals are, along with preventing him from doing any more evil, proves to be difficult for Peter as an apprentice wizard, but of course he rises to the occasion.
Moon Over Soho is a fantastic page-turning sequel to Midnight Riot. Ben Aaronovitch throws in a few tongue-in-cheek references to Harry Potter and Hogwarts, where Harry attended school. Peter and Nightingale go to Nightingale’s old school, which was also a school for wizards. Peter has to explain to Nightingale his reference to Harry Potter and Hogwarts, as his boss or “governor” is unaware of the whole Harry Potter phenomenon. (After Peter tells him about Hogwarts, Nightingale dissuades him of the notion that his school was anything like Harry Potter’s.) For suspenseful urban fantasy full of the supernatural and mystery, Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch can’t be beat.