Whispers Under Ground

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Whispers Under Ground
Whispers Under Ground.jpg
Author Ben Aaronovitch
Language English
Genre Urban Fantasy
Publisher Gollancz
Publication date
21 June 2012 (2012-06-21)
Pages 432 pp
ISBN 978-0-575-09764-3
Preceded by Moon Over Soho
Followed by Broken Homes

Whispers Under Ground[1] is the third novel in the Rivers of London series by English author Ben Aaronovitch, published 2012 by Gollancz.[2]

Peter Grant of Metropolitan Police department in charge of magical crimes (AKA The Folly) is called in to assist in a murder investigation. The victim, an American student found stabbed to death at Baker Street station was killed with a potsherd, raising the suspicion the death may be Falcon ( police code for 'Folly') related. It quickly emerges that there is not merely a supernatural component to the case but that a secret world lies beneath the streets of the 'mundane' (non-magical) metropolis, and that the supernatural semi-human subterranean inhabitants may be no more harmless than the entirely human population who are blissfully unaware of their existence.


The story commences soon after the events in the previous book in the series, Moon Over Soho, during which an evil wizard known as the Faceless Man nearly killed Grant and his police superior and magical mentor Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale.

Under Nightingale's direction Peter Grant, a young police constable (and the first officially mandated apprentice wizard in over half a century), and Lesley May, Grant's partner from his days in the regular force (seriously disfigured in an earlier case involving magic, who has become Nightingale's de facto second apprentice, now wearing a surgical mask as part of the ongoing attempt to rebuild her ruined face) investigate.

In the first instance, what they investigate is a claim by Abigail Kamara - an annoyingly persistent neighborhood girl who knows, via Grant's mum, that he 'does magic', has seen a ghost. Reluctantly Grant and Lesley investigate and they are surprised to not only see Abigail's ghost, but see him hit by a ghostly train while trying to spray-paint graffiti on a tunnel wall, the unfinished message still visible when the apparition fades.

Shortly after a call from Detective Inspector Stephanopoulos of the Belgravia Murder Investigation Team to make a 'Falcon Assessment' - to decide if magic played a part - in a murder at the Baker Street Underground station: the victim, American art student, James Gallagher, was fatally stabbed with a potsherd.

When he examines the murder weapon Grant senses magic and he and DC Sahra Guleed of Belgravia MIT are dispatched to James's apartment, where he finds a bowl with the same magical 'signature'. James's roommate Zach Palmer tells them he thinks it came from the Portobello Market but in attempting to follow this lead Grant discovers Zach is deceiptful, shifty and thoroughly untrustworthy but not, apparently, involved in the murder.

The investigation is complicated the arrival of Special Agent Kimberley Reynolds, FBI, a friend of the Gallagher family whose involvement is wished on the MIT at the insistence of James's father, a US senator. In short order Reynolds quickly concludes the mere presence of Grant indicates either a lack of appropriate zeal or the intention to bungle the investigation as payback for the Senator's criticism of the UK's human rights record.

While the seething Reynolds and the bemused Grant cross swords Nightingale pursues a lead on the Faceless Man who is known to have been trained by a wizard who went to Oxford in the 1960s and belonged to a dining club known as the Little Crocodiles. Nightingale interviews known associates while Peter is left to pursue the murder investigation.

Reasoning St Martins School of Art might yield clues about Jame's state of mind Grant visits his professor, then attends an exhibition of work by Irish sculptor Ryan Carroll. Peter instantly realises some of the pieces incorporate pottery identical to the potshard murder weapon and the bowl at Jame's flat. While at the exhibition Peter encounters another magical practitioner, Madame Teng, and Fleet realising he is under close scrutiny, and not just by an FBI Special Agent with an agenda.

Convinced Zach is a lead rather Grant rescues him from small-time local villains The Nolan Brothers and takes Zach - who has been thrown out of James's apartment - to The Folly partly for his own protection but partly to keep him under observation, but to Grant's surprise Zach announces he knows where he is and what The Folly is all about because he is a half-fairy on his father's side.

Grant and Lesley pursue their enquiries at a 'Nasareth', or Goblin Market, while Nightingale returns to the frail and wheelchair-bound Albert Woodville-Gentle only to find him gone but not without left behind a potentially lethal magical booby trap, one that 'detonates' with such magical force everyone at the market senses it and instantly turns to the forces of law and order. (As Lesley cynically remarks: Now you want us...) Examining the trap it becomes clear it was not set by the Woodville-Gentle but the Faceless Man, leading Nightingale to conclude the Faceless Man was once Woodville-Gentle's apprentice.

Trailing the Nolan brothers with Grant and Lesley May them delivering vegetables and collecting pottery.

Since the pots exactly match the style and material of the shard used as a murder weapon so investigating the history of the warehouse where the pottery is taken and stored, and discover it is owned by The Beale Corporation, which was once the maker of 'unbreakable' pottery for use in the less genteel parts of the far-flung British Empire during its Victoria heyday, and that the founders were instrumental in excavating the tunnels that later became the heart of the London Underground railway.

Returning to the address where the vegetables were delivered Grant and Lesley discover it is not a house but a hollow facade one room deep, clearly no lived-in but with a hatch in the floor covering a concealed (and illicit) folding stair of antique design that leads to the tunnel system.

Grant and Sergeant Jaget Kumar, the BTP's own outre-events specialist, investigate, but they are attacked by pallid large-eyed individuals who fire at them and discover Special Agent Reynolds, who they thought was a suspect, returns fire with her issue weapon, alarming the pair since it was remotely possible she might actually hit someone and perhaps kill them.

After an exchange of pithy comments about who saved whom, and why the powers that be might not be inclined to turn a blind eye to armed foreign nationals running around loose shooting at shadows Reynolds explained she looked at the forensic reports, worked out James had been in the sewers then checked the covers around his apartment for signs of tampering. Having escaped her CTC 'minder' Kitteridge, she decided to conduct her own investigation since no one else was doing anything. Given they all ended up in the same place being shot at and only Kumar knows the way out she joins the pair and after a dark, dirty and dangerous pursuit that involves an extended trek through the sewage system they eventually find their way to the surface, exiting via an illicit rave hosted in a disused service tunnel by junior river goddesses Olympia and Chelsea, where Peter finds Zach - who they call 'goblin boy' working as a barman.

Emerging onto an Underground station platform the trio spot one of the pallid large-eyed individuals, chase him on to a platform but when they try to overpower him he uses magic to tear the platform apart, burying Grant in the process.

Smothered, entombed, unable to move or use magic in any useful way Grant waits for rescue and enters a dream-like state, seeing visions. He is finally rescued only because Lady Ty knew where he was and directed the rescuers to him, later informing him that despite his defiance in past encounters saving his life leaves him firmly in her debt and that he better not forget it.

While recovering in hospital Lesley visits Grant and, after telling him the 'earth bender' got away (and eating all his grapes), explains she had confirmed Beale, Gallagher and Carroll are all connected through the Unbreakable Empire Pottery corporation, being descended from founders Gallagher and Carroll, who emigrated to America and Ireland. Later Zach also visits Grant, plunders the food Grant's mum provides and accidentally lets slip that he knows the pallid large-eyed man.

Realizing his slip Zach runs for it with Grant, barefoot and wearing only a gape-backed hospital gown, chasing him out of the hospital and through Christmas crowds until Zach passes Sainsburys where Lesley, her arms filled with shopping, trips him up so Grant can arrest him... only to nearly get arrested himself on the basis he's was doing the chasing, he's barefoot, wearing a hospital gown open at the back and being in hot pursuit hadn't had time to find out what had happened to his warrant card.

When questioned Zach finally admits he not only knows a pallid large-eyed person who lives underground, he reveals the Quiet People have been minding their own business, living underground and making pottery for the Beale corporation, since the mid Victorian Era. Against the background of fevered speculation about how to address the issue of an unknown number of Quiet People who have colonised capital for at least a century Grant, accompanied by Lesley May and Special Agent Reynolds go down into the sewers to confront the fey who Seawol calls 'the mole people'.

As they talk to the Quiet People it emerges James Gallagher was courting the daughter of the chieftain of the Quiet People. Since Zach was infatuated despite being regarded as a mere errand runner, he briefly becomes a serious suspect until Grant has a sudden insight:

Whoever stabbed James Gallagher with a razor-sharp potsherd cut themselves in the process and because Zachery Palmer has no injuries he's in the clear. At this point suspicion falls on the one person involved who had means, motive and opportunity. When confronted, the killer confesses, claiming it was the ease with which the gifted young American effortlessly surpassed him, the true motive for murder being neither politics nor magic, and not even for monetary gain but rather in a fit of lethally spiteful envy.

With the murder case resolved the Folly team follow up on clues that lead to what they suppose is the base of Faceless Man only to discover the body of his former master, dead from effect of using too much magic for too long and too often.

Reynolds departs with the senator, taking his son home, ruefully acknowledging to Peter that the situation was and remains far more complex than she dreamed possible, and that she can't speak about it unless she actively wants her FBI career to end abruptly (and in all likelihood be put on psychological evaluation for life).

The story concludes with a call from the BTP informing Grant Abigail has been detained but not yet charged for vandalism on railway property and that she has dropped his name. Grant duly arrives at the station to find her reading a comic, unworried by the prospect of charges because what she was doing wasn't vandalism but an attempt to free the trapped ghost by completing his graffito.

Grant has the charges dropped, negotiates her good behaviour on the condition that when she encounters anything magical she attends weekly meetings where she will show him the notes she will make and that he and Lesley May will follow up. As he drives her home Abigail gives him her first report: while on her mission to lay the ghost she saw a fox who gave her the following message: Tell your friends they're on the wrong side of the river.


Returning characters[edit]

  • Police Constable Peter Grant; an officer in the Metropolitan Police and the first official apprentice wizard in sixty years.
  • Police Constable Lesley May; an officer in the Metropolitan Police. Currently on medical leave and de facto apprentice to Nightingale
  • Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale; head of the Folly and the last officially sanctioned English Wizard.
  • Molly; The Folly's domestic helper, of unknown species.
  • Dr Abdul Haqq Walid; world-renowned gastroenterologist and cryptopathologist.
  • Abigail Kamara; annoyingly persistent teen-aged girl.
  • Detective Chief Inspector Alexander Seawoll; The SIO (Senior Investigation Officer) Belgravia MIT (Murder Investigation Team)
  • Detective Inspector Miriam Stephanopoulos; Belgravia MIT.
  • Detective Constable Sahra Guleed; a junior member of the Belgravia MIT.
  • Frank Caffrey; LFB (London Fire Brigade) Fire Investigator, ex-para and a key "associate" of the Folly.
  • Cecilia Tyburn Thames; aka Lady Ty, "daughter" of Mama Thames and goddess of the River Tyburn.
  • Olympia and Chelsea; school age twin "daughters" of Mama Thames, goddesses of Counter's Creek and the River Westbourne.
  • Fleet; another "daughter" of Mama Thames goddess of the eponymous River Fleet.
  • Toby the dog; resident of The Folly, sensitive to magic.

Characters introduced in this novel[edit]

  • Albert Woodville-Gentle; suspected Little Crocodile
  • Varenka Dobroslova; Albert's live-in nurse.
  • James Gallagher; an American student at St. Martins.
  • Zachary Palmer; James' house-mate.
  • Senator Gallagher; James' father and a US Senator.
  • Special Agent Kimberly Reynolds; FBI liaison officer.
  • Sergeant Jaget Kumar; British Transport Police
  • DC David Carey; Belgravia MIT assigned as Family Liaison.
  • DC Simon Kittredge; police officer in the CTC (Counter Terrorism Command)
  • Graham Beale; CEO Beale Property Services.
  • Kevin Nolan: Fruit & Veg. Wholesaler.
  • Ryan Carroll; an up-and-coming artist.
  • Madame Teng; a visiting magical practitioner from Taiwan.
  • Robert Su; assistant to Madame Teng.


Fantasy Books Review [1]

Starburst Magazine [2]

The SF Site [3]

KD Did It [4]


  1. ^ "Syndetic Solutions - Summary for ISBN Number 9780575097674". syndetics.com. Retrieved 2015-12-21. 
  2. ^ "Authors : Aaronovitch, Ben : Science Fiction Encyclopedia". Sf-encyclopedia.com. 20 August 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2012.