Whispers Under Ground, by Ben Aaronovitch

Lanita recommended this mystery set in London, so it seemed an appropriate read while London's Olympic triumph was on my mind. Part of the fun is that the chapters are named for the location where the chapter's action takes place: Tufnell Park, Ladbroke Grove, Russell Square, etc. The book as a whole takes the reader on a grand tour of London, avoiding for the most part the obvious tourist sites but including, as one might guess from the title, the underground and even the sewers.

Peter is a London police constable of West African heritage, Sierra Leone to be precise. However, his race doesn't affect the story and is barely mentioned again. What does set him apart is his assignment: he splits his time between the station and a unit based in a building called the Folly. Led by D.I. Nightingale, the unit's purpose is to investigate crimes that involve the paranormal. Brought in whenever a crime has a whiff of something odd, they are barely tolerated by the regular police. Peter and Nightingale are at the moment the only two members of the unit, the third, Lesley, being on sick leave. She wears a mask “Because my face fell off”, she says, referring apparently to a previous book in the series.

Just after 3 a.m. Peter is called in to help with the investigation into a body found on platform three of the Baker Street Underground station. Yes, that Baker Street. The description of the station, indeed, descriptions of all the locations call up the scene with a few well-chosen details (though I may not be the best judge having been to most of them; my memory needs little jogging).

Baker Street opened in 1863 but most of it is retrofitted cream tile, wood paneling, and wrought iron from the 1920s, itself overgrown with layers of cables, junction boxes, speakers, and CCTV cameras.

In general, I shy away from stories involving the paranormal. However, 99.9% of the story is standard police procedural, and some of it quite funny (Aaronovitch has written some Doctor Who episodes), so I had no trouble whizzing through to the satisfying end while lazing in the hammock. What sets this book apart for me, though, is that it is the first book I've read on my Nook.

As an engineer I'm not afraid of new technology, but as a lover of books I've resisted moving to an ebook reader. I finally succumbed because I needed a way to proof digital versions of my own books. For quite a few years now, I've listened to books on tape/CD in the car and occasionally while walking. I learned early on that not all books were appropriate for listening. Thrillers made me drive too fast during the exciting bits, while dense fiction or nonfiction tended to lose me when I had to pay more attention to the road and couldn't easily flip back a few pages to catch up. On the other hand, some books that I would not have had the patience to read in my precious spare time were good enough for livening up my commute.

Reading this book on the Nook turned out to be fine. I missed the heft of a book in my hands and the physical page turning, but enjoyed being able to increase the size of the text and also holding the lightweight device up without getting tired. I love physical books too much to give them up—the smell of the paper, the sight of an old favorite on the shelf—but I can see the appeal of ebooks. Still, I want to continue to support bookstores, the brick and mortar kind where you can browse the shelves and chat with the staff. Nearly all of the books that make my Best of the Year lists I read because they were recommended by the staff at The Ivy Bookshop, my local indie. Long live The Ivy! There will be a place for ebooks in my reading future, especially when traveling, but for me they will never replace the real thing.

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