Broken Homes
February 19, 2019 4:33 AM - by Ben Aaronovitch - Subscribe

A mutilated body in Crawley. A killer on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil, possibly an associate of the twisted wizard known as the Faceless Man. Or maybe just a garden-variety serial killer. Before apprentice wizard and Police Constable Peter Grant can even get his head 'round the case, two more are dropped in his lap: a town planner has gone under a tube train, and there's a stolen grimoire for Grant to track down. So far, so London. But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans, and inhabited by the truly desperate. Is there a connection?
posted by dinty_moore (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I started to re-read Broken Homes in anticipation of this thread, and I got all the way up to the chapter that contains You Know What, and I had to put the book down for a while. I spoiled myself while waiting for this to come out in the US, and I've also been through the book in full at three times on the Kindle and twice by audiobook

AND THE FACELESS MAN'S QUESTION

AND HOW PETER THINKS IT'S MEANT FOR HIM

AND HER SUBSEQUENT HARD LITTLE COMMENT TO THE FACELESS MAN ABOUT HOW KILLING PETER WASN'T PART OF THE DEAL

STILL HITS ME BETWEEN THE EYES

More than any of the other books, this is one that rewards repeat reading with new information, which is a lovely bit of meta that puts you in Peter's shoes, as he's revisiting and re-analyzing all of his interactions with Lesley leading up to this, including during the follow-up interviews that you know he'll be doing. That exchange about tasers? That comment about using the staffs as bait?

I read these books before my husband, and dragged Mr. Machine into reading them about a year later. 2/3rds of the way through Broken Homes, he was like, "Hey, that big thing you asked whether I was up to yet so that we could talk about it, was that Nightingale versus the Night Witch?"

He didn't understand me wafting away on a wave of cackling, but shortly thereafter, he did. :D
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:31 AM on February 19 [4 favorites]


I've been really looking forward to talking about this one :D. I've got more, but let's start with Lesley.

You know, the first time I read this (uh, right before I posted the RoL/MR post, so about six weeks ago), I was thinking about how much better Peter seemed to be at figuring things out - there's a lot less of Lesley prodding him on and telling him the right thing to do, and a lot more of him doing the work and investigating things that others seem to think is worthless.

And I think that's still true, but on reread it's also that Lesley's not trying. She's subtly sabotaging the investigation throughout the book, and using her relationship with Peter to do it. She knows how much Peter trusts her, and is constantly just trying to lead them in the wrong direction and telling him that investigating leads is a waste of time.

Lesley's view of tasers and wanting them set off a lot of alarm bells on the first read. Her view of the demimonde and policing has never been the most compassionate (I mean, she straight up called Bev a monster in the last book), but the callous 'if you die by our actions while appearing guilty, it's your fault' . . . I had to believe that Aaronovitch was self-aware enough to have that pay off, or else I'd have a lot of questions for everyone who kept on recommending this series to me.

I was really worried about her tasing a river during my first readthrough. I'm not sure what would happen if she had tried tasing the embodiment of a body of water, but I'm pretty sure the result would be Not Great.

I've got a question for people - who do you think it was that killed the biker dude? Upon first read I thought Lesley was right, and that it was Nicky, but obviously we can't trust her opinion in the end. Faceless Man covering his tracks is definitely a possibility - but so is Nightingale with his promise (though oof, that is dark, even for a guy who is okay calling paramilitary squads on jazz vampires).
posted by dinty_moore at 7:22 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Oh god I love this one so. As a hobbyist in architecture, the very idea that a place could be built to harness magical energy and it is a Brutalist housing development is A. MAZ. ING! But yeah, this book is one that is better upon the re-read because you can see how things are building. I'm curious, though, if anyone else thinks that Lesley was tainted from the word go or did the corruption happen slowly? Like the Faceless Man came to her and taught her magic and promised her a solution while she was still healing. Or was it a slower seduction?
posted by teleri025 at 2:49 PM on February 19


I don't know that the texts really support it (I haven't read Lies Sleeping yet either) but I do sort of wonder what it was exactly that Leslie said to Woodville-Gentle when they first met. Maybe it is too early in the timeline but I wonder if she was looking for an entrée with the Faceless man even then. I think back to her snapping at Peter in Whispers "I don't want it to become my real face." Peter stumbled into magic, and his interest is scientific, based on his curiosity and the way he looks at the details of the world around him. For Leslie, magic was always a means to an end. Almost the first thing she said to Peter after her face fell off was to ask whether magic could fix it. So she went and found someone who did know how to fix it.
posted by Wretch729 at 4:26 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I'm curious, though, if anyone else thinks that Lesley was tainted from the word go or did the corruption happen slowly? Like the Faceless Man came to her and taught her magic and promised her a solution while she was still healing. Or was it a slower seduction?

I guess it means what you mean by corruption! Back in the Moon Over Soho discussion I skirted around this a little bit, but I definitely thought that Lesley was sitting at home not dealing with her scarred face very well when Peter up and gives her a list of Little Crocodiles - one of whom has the ability to make anyone forget his face. Lesley definitely has an us vs. them idea of law enforcement, but I also don't get the impression she'd be against breaking the law if it was the only way for her to get what she really wanted. If Peter had a better idea of how she was feeling, he might have figured out something was up sooner (I get the idea that Lesley is a lot angrier about her disfigurement and magic than Peter really understands - he shrugs off some pretty shitty comments about the fae from her, for example).

I do think she was planning to show Woodville-Gentile (faceless man #1) her face no matter what - she warns Peter that she might do that as a distraction before they even get there.

The rest of it - I don't know, I think the comment about her opinion on tasers being used on the infirm (aka, murdering someone) could have come at any time, I think. In the first book, Peter explicitly mentions that the one thing that he was always better at Lesley at was community policing. She's never been compassionate, or even advocated for compassion. I don't think that part of her personality really had to change that much.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:24 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I'm curious, though, if anyone else thinks that Lesley was tainted from the word go or did the corruption happen slowly?

Yay, I'm finally caught up on the reread!

Reading this time, it really struck me how out of the blue Lesley making a werelight is - and how much emphasis Peter puts on someone needing to show you, repeatedly. (And the comment - I think it's in Broken Homes about how sensing vestigia is easy enough to pick up once you know it's there, but doing magic is a totally different story.

Which makes me think the Faceless Man approached her pretty early in the sequence. (And there's also the bits where she is visibly not talking to Peter about things, or when she's in London for surgeries, and what else is going on while she's recovering? There are these gaps in their interactions that are noticeable once you start wondering.)
posted by jenettsilver at 5:02 AM on February 20 [4 favorites]


So part of me feels like Nightingale should have noticed something was up if Lesley showed up after having someone besides Peter teach her lux, but a) he might have noticed and assumed that Peter had spent more time teaching Lesley than he actually had and b) it's not like it would be the first time that Nightingale would have missed something important.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:20 PM on February 20 [2 favorites]


I thought the side plot with Mr. Nolfi was partly put in in order to help justify how Leslie was able to learn lux mostly on her own. It's not that hard of a spell, and Leslie can certainly bring a single-minded focus and intensity to practicing what she'd seen Peter do when she was stuck with nothing but painful medical procedures to entertain her.
posted by Wretch729 at 4:22 PM on February 20 [5 favorites]


Things I like:

1. Peter and Lesley’s intereractionsand the second guessing you do on rereading.

2. The brief but well-drawn portraits of the inhabitants of Skygarden. They are much more fully realized then some of the supporting characters of previous books.

3. We get a clear and compassionate view of a gay man and his dead partner, which makes up a little for the crappy trans character back in Moon Over Soho.

4. Little depictions of daily life, which contrast nicely with the fantastical elements.

5. Further development of the division between Peter, Lesley, and nightingale. Nightingale has a tremendous amount of power, and a deep understanding of what to do to get a particular magical affect, but he is startlingly incurious about how magic actually works, and he shows little interest in peering “under the hood.” Lesley is only interested in what works; for her magic is a means to an end. She is deeply cynical, a bit like Stephanopoulos and Seawoll, but willing to take that cynicism further. Unlike Nightingale, she is both inside and outside the system. Peter is similarly inside and outside the system, but he is much less cynical, and his defining characteristic is that he asks why and tries to understand the answer to that question in a way that neither Nightingale nor Lesley can.

Things that I like less:

1. The pacing is a bit of a mess. The story takes a while to get going, it meanders a bit, and then the climax is a rush to conclusion.

2. I wish we had more time with the Skygarden characters. It’s pretty rare that I want a novel to be longer, but I often feel at the end of the Peter Grant books that they could’ve been about 20% longer, with a little more room to let the secondary characters shine.

3. The Faceless Man is such a cypher. Very soon, we’re going to get to see a little more of his motivation, but currently he is just a ridiculously prepared opponent who just kind of stands around posing and being menacing around slightly improbable and overly complicated plots, like Moriarity in the BBC Sherlock.

4. More Stephanopolous and Seawoll would be nice.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:34 PM on February 22 [3 favorites]


Oh dammit I have been re-reading like mad and I am still a book and a half behind. And I so wanted to be here for the reveal! Such a gut punch. Oh Leslie.

What’s really striking me on re-read is how much more concerned Peter is about his own reaction to Leslie’s disfigurement vs concern about how impossibly hard and painful it must be for her to, you know, actually live through. I’m really unsure how much of this is authorial intent or just the male gaze in action.

There was that gross bit in Whispers Underground where Zach starts screaming about nonsense in the Folly in the middle of the night and Leslie comes running out, police baton swinging, still in her undies but having taken the time to put a mask on first. And Peter is too busy salivating over her shapely arse to do any introspection about what it must mean that covering her face was her top priority in that situation. Coupled with his incredulity that Zach would actually want to go there despite “the injuries” and I am a lot more sympathetic to Leslie than I was the first go round.

Burn it all to the ground. I am of the opinion that she probably reached out to the Faceless Man soon after the events of Moon Over Soho rather than him reaching out for her.
posted by arha at 3:06 AM on February 23 [3 favorites]


Ugh. Leslie -> Lesley. I plead Australian.
posted by arha at 3:46 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]


Well, I think some of the problems in the early books are due to Aaronovitch being, well not a new writer, but one who had mostly done novelizations and scripts rather than original novels. I think this has an impact on pacing and the development of side characters, as well as the somewhat rocky development of the central Faceless Man mystery. Additionally, I think the series started without a clear idea of how some of the relationships were going to develop. For example, I think Ashe was rethought, and he was replaced with Zach, Either because Zach is a more interesting character or because there needed to be a way to get Beverley back to London.

This is important because I can’t tell whether some of Peter’s bad behavior is due to Aaronovitch’s failures as a writer, or whether they are supposed to be there. One really glaring problem to my mind is Peter’s casualness about the possibility of magic fixing Lesley’s face. I think a couple of scenes with Peter quizzing various forces about options and getting negative answers would have underlined that he really cared and was trying to help. In book 2, instead, we get a sort of offhand “nope,” which just feels bad.

Similarly, Peter’s romantic/sexual attitudes Toward Lesley feel like maybe the original plan was for them to be a couple. If so, Dropping that makes Peter just a creep. Now we do get the very satisfying contrast between the (mostly good) Peter who can’t get past Lesley’s face, and the (mostly… garbagey) Zach who has no problem with it, and therefore shows Peter up for being pretty shallow. And not as good a friend as he maybe thinks he is.

In a previous entry, someone link to an interview where Aaronovitch said He originally planned this as a TV series where the lead would be a woman, but, when he shifted over to novels, he changed Peter to a man because he didn’t think he could write a convincing first person woman character. I wonder how much of that self identified inability plays out in the erratic depiction of women, especially early in the series.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:03 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]


(Lesley/Leslie seems to change with the book and maybe some editions - all of my books are US, but the earlier ones have Leslie and the later ones have Lesley. I don't even know)

There was that gross bit in Whispers Underground where Zach starts screaming about nonsense in the Folly in the middle of the night and Leslie comes running out, police baton swinging, still in her undies but having taken the time to put a mask on first. And Peter is too busy salivating over her shapely arse to do any introspection about what it must mean that covering her face was her top priority in that situation.


And yeah, that was pretty gross - followed immediately by Peter still thinking he had some sort of say on who Lesley chooses to date, which, man, no. You don't and you never have.

I do think part of this is that Peter assumes that Lesley is dealing with the whole face disfigurement a lot better than she actually is - despite all of the evidence he has that she is clearly not dealing with it well. He's got this ideal Lesley in his head that is The Best Cop and can handle everything, so she'd be able to handle this, too. Or, as likely, Peter assumes that Lesley is dealing with traumatic events in the same way that he deals with traumatic events, which is to move on and do his best to never think or acknowledge that they happened ever again. And without acknowledgement, you can't ever examine the consequences. You know, the way that Peter is definitely (not) claustrophobic after being buried alive and it's just a coincidence that he's not very interested in dating after Simone.

There's this passage, when Lesley is asking Peter why he isn't with Beverly:

“I’m not in a hurry to rush into that one,” I said. Lesley rounded on me and pointed at her face, forcing me to look at the whole horrid mess of it.

“This is what happens if you wait, Peter,” she said. “Or some other fucked-up thing. You’ve got to get it while you can.”

And I thought that I’d like to know what I was going to get.


I like how Simone was (not) referenced here - it makes her not being referenced in Whispers Underground make a lot of sense. Peter has full control over what we know about - I mean, that's why we know so much about architecture. Peter also doesn't want to think or talk about anything that really emotionally involves him. We never saw the emotional reaction to the Simone situation because Peter never allowed himself to have an emotional reaction. From a Doylist perspective, this might be Aaronovitch responding to criticism from earlier books, but from a Watsonian one, it seems to scan. (The 'fix' with asking Beverly about Lesley's face during Spring Court works a lot less in my opinion - either he's concerned and he should have picked up a phone or asked another of the other dozen local rivers, or he's not)

I've got a lot of sympathies with Peter as a fellow late-to-the-emotion-feeling-game person. On the other hand, Peter, you probably should figure out whether or not you want to be with someone before you start making out with their sister. Just saying.

I don't know if I would go as far as to have sympathies for Lesley, considering the cavalier approach to deadly force and the fact that she's casually manipulating someone who trusts her, not to mention the actual tasing (and giving that extra shock right at the end to be sure!). But Peter's reactions to Lesley do make the argument that 'Peter knows Lesley well enough to know his behavior isn't bothering her, and she'd say something if she was bothered' really fall flat - he clearly can't read Lesley at all.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:07 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]


Without spoiling later books, Aaronovitch eventually gives Lesley a wider range of motivations than her face for her decisions. We will need to wait a while to discuss how convincing they are. At this point in the series, the main opposition lacks any ideology, which makes them a little cartoony. Maybe there’s something in the title of this pivotal volume, Broken Homes, when families, blood and constructed, lie at the heart of so many characters.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:56 AM on February 23


I don't know if I would go as far as to have sympathies for Lesley, considering the cavalier approach to deadly force and the fact that she's casually manipulating someone who trusts her, not to mention the actual tasing (and giving that extra shock right at the end to be sure!). But Peter's reactions to Lesley do make the argument that 'Peter knows Lesley well enough to know his behavior isn't bothering her, and she'd say something if she was bothered' really fall flat - he clearly can't read Lesley at all.

Really good points about how Peter is the point of you character really affects what we know about what’s going on. I keep forgetting that; It’s easy to think that Peter is an omniscient voice because he’s our only view into the world....

By the way, my voice to text changed “omniscient voice” to “omissions boy,” which is more on the nose then it usually manages.

I don’t think we need to have sympathy for Lesley, but I think it’s important that she has some kind of ideology that makes her actions sensible. If she is going to work as a foil for Peter, she needs to have a moral ground to act from, even if their moral ground is compromised. It’s like, in the various iterations of the X-Men, Magneto only works if the writer and the reader can agree that he has a point; otherwise he’s just sort of an incoherent villain. So we know that Lesley believes that the ends justify the means, and we know that she believes in some kind of law and order. We know that she needed her face fixed, and maybe she needed to be freed from the structures that Nightengale was placing on her. What else did she need/believe?

We get a few answers in later books, which I obviously can’t discuss, but I think there’s a few other things. I suspect that discovering that the Faceless Man could fix her face kind of shattered her idea of Nightingale being the be-all and end-all of magic. Similarly, maybe discovering that Zack was interested in her despite her face was a push against the pity she was getting from Peter and, I think, her other colleagues like Stephanopoulos and Seawoll. Was there also an urge to push back against the demands of law and order that even the cynical police put on her? Did she need to get away from her family? They seemed pretty supportive in Moon Over Soho, but maybe also smothering? Did she need to get away from Peter’s judgment?

For all of Peter’s less than great behavior/attitudes, I don’t think Lesley gave up on him; she clearly wants to protect him at the end of the book, so there still some friendliness there.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:12 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'll hold off on the moral/motivation parts, since it'll probably be a more productive conversation later.

Though with Nightingale - I don't know if Lesley ever had much of a regard for him? I was looking for evidence of how she felt one way or another in the first book, but other some cynicism about the idea that magic exists in the beginning, there isn't much. At the beginning of Moon Over Soho, she wants to hear Peter tell her the truth - because she trusts Peter more than she trusts Walid (or, I assume, Nightingale). When he verifies that magic can't help, she's quick to point out that he doesn't know everything - he agrees, and then says Nightingale doesn't know everything, either. Which, well, Peter's saying it, not her.

But, a) she's a lot more cynical all-around than Peter, b) she did come up under Seawoll - and I'd sort of assume hearing Seawoll's opinion of Nightingale would at least make one a little less trusting of his expertise and c) considering how much shit she gives Peter for being distracted and not noticing things, I can't imagine she's super impressed with Nightingale's ability to miss various criminal enterprises (also entire civilizations).

Other non-Lesley things in this book:

I agree the pacing isn't the best here - but I do enjoy the plot overall. For one thing, I remembered what the plot was, which doesn't always happen. It still had time for a lot of great character and descriptive moments - the arepa con carne asada with the bad English translation, the quiet people's musical journey, Nightingale's continuing battle against Harry Potter references; but most of the digressions all seemed to be important in the end. Nolfi learning about the werelights, for instance. The architecture references and discussion of staves ended up being very important to the case. Even the Spring Court acted as a fairly organic way to reintroduce or check in on a bunch of characters all at once, as well as a reminder that the soft power that the rivers like to wield can still be dangerous (also, I'm all for hangout scenes. Especially hangout scenes involving Abigail).

It also helps that the central architecture conversation in this book - about brutalism and Le Cobusier and how they had so many theories of urban design and bettering people's lives, but ignored things like 'human scale' and 'actual human environmental temperature preferences' - is something that fascinates me. The idea that the vestigia well did make people more exceptional at whatever they were, even if that thing wasn't good, also seems fitting - the ideal and theories are great, the practice less so. Plus, more experimentation and extrapolation on the original worldbuilding, which is always fun.

Speaking of which, I also liked Sky for that reason - the seasonal/cyclical aging was a nice touch.

We get a clear and compassionate view of a gay man and his dead partner, which makes up a little for the crappy trans character back in Moon Over Soho.

This was also great, because even though the dude was dead and at least helping the villain, we still got a) a loving family b) acknowledgement that his sexuality had nothing to do with him being evil or his death. (My biggest nitpick with his book is all of the men with stereotypical English names, because I couldn't keep any of them straight).

Also Varvara! I love Varvara as a foil for Nightingale - she's gone through much of the same trauma and same weirdness as Nightingale, but has obviously metabolized it very differently. She left the war behind, had a husband, outlived her husband, spent a couple decades living it up in the demimonde, and then became a contract killer (or, you know, did both. She seems like a multitasker). I'm not going to say that her way was healthier - what with all of the murder - but it makes Nightingale's progression seem less predetermined. Also, I love that she's fangirling Nightingale right after he's wrecked her shit and is generally unafraid of the consequences.
posted by dinty_moore at 4:38 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]




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