Friday Reads The October Man, by Ben Aaronovitch, novella

The October Man, by Ben Aaronovitch is an offshoot of Aaronovitch’s The Rivers of London series, and perfect for the coming Halloween season. Set in the city of Trier, one of the few Roman conquered cities in Germany, this modern urban fantasy runs, KDA Polezei Tobias Winter, and local officer Vanessa Sommer, up and down hills, staircases, and steep vineyards in a puzzling magic and mythology-laden case.

Tobias is a member of the Abteilung Komplexe und diffuse Angelegenheiten (KDA)—Department of Complex and Diffuse Matters, a lovely, and vague way to say that his division looks into what it calls “infractions” –of a supernatural nature, often involving death. No aliens are involved, but, as in Aaronovitch’s other stories, a great many creatures from myth, plus, of course, river spirits. Tobias is the Director’s apprentice, just as Peter Grant of the Rivers of London Series, is an apprentice of the Nightingale. Vanessa Sommer is a Kriminalpolizei officer in Trier, specializing in crimes involving wine. As the story develops, she also has a budding talent for magic.

The mystery begins with a dead male body, covered with a fungus called Botrytis cinerea or Noble Rot (sometimes introduced to grapes to create a sweet wine, ) and not usually found on humans, much less as a cause of death. The body was dumped below a steep field of grapes, and above a river. The victim was a member of a club of mostly middle-aged men, who started with the quote from Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, “Life is too short to drink bad wine.” They begin by drinking good wine, but eventually branch out by beyond their comfort zones, taking classes, going to museums, going to live theatre. When the first death occurs, it was actually at the point of starting to voluntarily disband. Every member had improved his life and was happier in it. Tobias and Vanessa have to discover how magic is involved.

The owner of the vineyard is involved, as well. The Stracker family had a connection with the river below, the Kyll (or Kelly, as she prefers to be known when walking around town.) When Jacqueline Stracker inherited the vineyard from her grandfather, she returned from working in the wine country of California, and that may have started the supernatural activity. And when pressed about unusual activities, admits to following her grandfather one night when he made a “wine sacrifice” to the river, intending to steal the bottles. She was very surprised when a shining, nude woman walked out of the water and gave her a message for her grandfather, that the compact was broken. She never mentioned the incident to family.

Aaronovitch’s writing is addicting, his descriptions of the countryside and highways can be confusing, but add texture to his stories. His characters have depth. I’d like more stories about these two. It doesn’t hurt to have an interest or background in folklore and mythology, but it certainly not necessary. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The October Man, by Ben Aaronovitch, A Rivers of London Novella, Subterranean Press, ISBN 9781596069084, hard back. 208 pages.

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