A fresh, fun novella that I hope is the start of a new series of German “Rivers” books.
“The October Man” novella breathes new life into the “Rivers Of London” universe by taking us to Trier in Germany where Tobias Winter, broadly the counterpart of Peter Grant is investigating the death of a man whose corpse has been found covered in a strange fungus. The fungus is strange enough to merit the involvement of the Abteilung KDA in which Tobias is an Investigator and one of only two licensed magical practitioners in Germany.
I enjoyed the way in which this book differed from “The Rivers Of London” series while inhabiting the same world. It seemed to me that Ben Aaronovitch succeeded in giving the book a plausible German feel, starting with the wonderful name of the organisation that Tobia works in: “The Department for Complex and Unspecific Matters”. That’s so different than just calling something “The Folly”. It speaks to a need to classify by function rather than by history that I rather admire.
I was pleased to see that Tobias is not Peter with a German accent. He comes from a solidly middle-class background in the boring suburbs of Mannheim. His father is a high-ranking police officer. His mother is politically active and diametrically opposed to his father’s politics. Tobias is urbane and calm. His wit is drier than Peter’s. He comes across as more mature and more grounded. A professional policeman from a police family who just happens to be able to do magic.
The history of magic is different in Germany than in the UK, not just because of the Nazis and the conflict between the magic practitioners on both sides but because of the difference in gods and goddesses, as well as constant, tantalising, references to powerful werewolf groups and individual vampires.
It’s also interesting to see the world from the point of view of those on the receiving end of the RAF bombings that reduced the city of Trier to rubble, including the notorious Christmas bombings on 19th, 22nd and 24th December 1944 and to see how splitting Germany into East and West affected the development of magic.
The plot centres around wine, of course, we are on the Mosel after all. Solving a mystery in a wine region gave the perfect pretext for involving Vanessa Sommer, one of the local police who is an expert in wine. The Winter / Sommer combination is irresistible. She is enthusiastic, optimistic and insatiably curious and not at all thrown to discover that magic is real.
The plot is slight and a little static but but we get river goddesses, an evil revenant and the weight of a lot of bitter history. We also get a whole section of Tobias’ KDA that is really, really enjoys blowing stuff up. Still, this is a novella and so a little thinner than a full-length book would be.
“The October Man” felt like a pilot for a spin-off series. If it had been a pilot, I’d have bought the rest of Season One on the spot. I hope we will see more of Tobias and Vanessa soon.
I particularly liked the narrator of “The October Man”. I think Sam Peter Jackson (who is German, despite his very English sounding name) brought just the right tone to the text and was able to do different German regional accents convincingly. Click on the SoundClound link below to hear a sample.