The October Man
June 11, 2019 8:32 PM - by Ben Aaronovitch - Subscribe

Trier: famous for wine, Romans and being Germany’s oldest city. When a man is found dead with his body impossibly covered in a fungal rot, the local authorities know they are out of their depth. Fortunately this is Germany, where there are procedures for everything. Enter Investigator Tobias Winter, whose aim is to get in, deal with the problem, and get out with the minimum of fuss, personal danger and paperwork. With the help of frighteningly enthusiastic local cop, Vanessa Sommer, he’s quick to link the first victim to a group of ordinary middle aged men – and to realise they may have accidentally reawakened a bloody conflict from a previous century.
posted by dinty_moore (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Darn, no kindle version yet!
posted by sixswitch at 11:00 PM on June 11, 2019

oops, I was supposed to post this next week, when the book was to be released, except for all of the places that got the book early. My guess is it'll at least be out for Canadian Amazon on Friday? I'm not even sure what's dictating the release date - some complex algorithm of country, publisher, distribution partner, and format, maybe.

Other weird thing - subterranean press doesn't seem to have a distribution deal with google books (US), but the book is available for .epub on kobo, B&N, and Amazon in the US. Small press stuff gets weird when it comes to distribution and release, but I'm also wondering what the hell google books is trying to put in their distribution agreements.

I'll put the more spoilery stuff in a different comment, but it was interesting how different Tobi's voice was from Peter's - not only personality-wise, but in terms of word choice and sentence structure. I wouldn't want to have this be the main voice in the series, but I got what I wanted out of the novella - a different perspective on this world.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:18 AM on June 12, 2019

The audiobook has been available on Audible since the beginning of June. It was a little strange to have a narrator who wasn't Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, but I think it was the right call to go with someone new since Kobna is so indelibly Peter. Sam Peter Jackson as narrator made for a nice change, and I liked his German accent .

I was particularly delighted by every time Tobi thought "Peter Grant wouldn't do this" or "Peter Grant would..." because Peter has no idea who this guy is, and yet, Tobi knows enough about Peter's methodical approach to magic to think about what Peter would and wouldn't do.
posted by yasaman at 11:17 AM on June 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I really want to know where he gets his gossip from. There must be reports, but you know somebody is talking over a few glasses of beer, too.
posted by PussKillian at 1:22 PM on June 12, 2019

Yeah, I really want to know where he gets his gossip from. There must be reports, but you know somebody is talking over a few glasses of beer, too.

It's also obvious that there's two different sources of information, and they're not talking to each other. Kelly's reaction to Tobi asking how Police/River interactions are handled in England was hilarious, but also kind of telling - the Germans know about Peter's work and the Folly, but not about his home life.

Also, I enjoyed the sheer amount of salt about Nightingale breaking the agreement, considering how likely it is that he has no idea how many people he's pissed off. Eventually this is all going to come out and it's going to be great (France is doing something too? Russia is definitely doing something). I'm just imagining Peter's reaction when he finds out the Germans have an entire research department while he gets a teenaged cousin.

Also, apparently Abigail is terrifying! Good job, Abigail.

I enjoyed Vanessa and Kelly as characters - Vanessa is, in a lot of ways, the Peter analogue for the book, and Kelly's 'I've got too much shit on my plate to even care, what with my mother being my daughter now' created an interesting dynamic with the police.

I'm glad that they didn't do the footnotes the way they had in The Furthest Station.
posted by dinty_moore at 10:17 AM on June 13, 2019

I definitely liked Tobi and Vanessa, and I agree the tone was different enough that it didn’t feel like “Peter mit ein Cherman accent,” and, for the audiobook, I was really glad that had someone other than Kobna Holdbrook-Smith (although I love his reading). But...

1. There was way too much plot for the story length. I was regularly confused by what was going on, and it wrapped up too quickly.

2. Too much repetition. Rivers? Check. Revenants? Check. Long discussion of vestigia? Check. Humorous asides about police bureaucracy? Check. And so on.

3. I don’t need rape as a plot point unless it’s super-necessary.

4. I wish the wine-making had been more central to the plot.

5. Hey, there’s a wacky pathologist!

Mostly, I think this needed to be a novel, with more space to build the German parts of the world.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:50 PM on June 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

Rereading that, I sound more negative than I actually am. My biggest complaint is that establishing a whole new setting and cast needs more space than it was given. Even Tobi and Vanessa aren’t super fleshed out. I did like the way the references to German history were very off-hand, because they’d be recognized by other Germans. No “Well, Otto, as any German child knows, the Elector of Saxony was very irate in 1635, and....”
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:48 AM on June 15, 2019

Well that was thoroughly enjoyable. But I am perhaps having a stupid- why is it called October Man? Because it takes place during October? Is Tobias the October Man? Or the first victim?
posted by Coaticass at 5:25 AM on June 16, 2019

Apparently it does take place in October, but I assumed it had something to do with the movie (I have never seen the movie, have no idea if it has anything to do with wine or Germany, and only know it's a film noir).
posted by dinty_moore at 6:39 AM on June 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Aha! Did not know it was a film.. on googling the film noir plot...the reference makes sense now. The October Man (1947 film noir).
posted by Coaticass at 6:57 AM on June 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

And the whole thing is on YouTube.
posted by Coaticass at 7:06 AM on June 16, 2019

I'm halfway done listening to this, (so not reading any comments, yet) and was worried about missing Kobna's narration, but Sam Peter Jackson is doing a great job.
posted by soelo at 7:54 AM on June 25, 2019

I liked an early comment from Tobi about the development and systematisation of magic in Germany. While Nightingale had admitted that the Germans were (or were suspected to be) ahead of the British in the development of magic before WWII, all the descriptions we have of the early development of magic are centred squarely on the British: Newton, a loose collection of educated toffs, and eventually the Folly. Tobi has clearly been taught that while the original insight was from Newton, it was immediately picked up by German scholars who developed it properly and independently, and who had their own reasons -- independent of the British -- for using the Latin names for the formi (formae?). It put me in mind of conversations I (British) have had about the industrial revolution with friends from other European countries. We were all taught basically the same story, that "The industrial revolution happened in [my country]; ideas might have been built upon elsewhere, but [we] were the main drivers with engineers like [some guy] who invented the crucial [widget]". Like Peter and Tobi, by being taught with a focus on our own countries' contributions we'd all unthinkingly absorbed the story that this international mess of technological advances had been led by our own, uniquely civilised, home countries.

It's a nice reminder that the history of magic we read in these books is almost entirely filtered through Nightingale's and Postmartin's memories and biases. They may be refreshingly liberal, but they're upper-class sons of the Empire, through and through. Neither of them ever denies that there are other traditions, but there's never any great sense of curiosity about them, or concern about what limitations the very stiff, formal Newtonian tradition might have: The best things came from Britain, and things that came from Britain must be the best. I think Aaronovitch does a good job of drawing our attention to these blind spots throughout the series, and it's interesting to see Peter getting glimpses of magic from other traditions and start thinking along these lines (as he must, given his more modern anti-imperial sentiment). For some reason seeing this same, off-handed assumption from a POV character really drove it home to me.
posted by metaBugs at 3:32 AM on June 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

As a shorter note: It was only between this story and the related "Moment" we discussed in an earlier thread that I realised the nature of the "Agreement" that had prevented Nightingale from recruiting an apprentice. I'd always assumed it was something between him and the Met, or between him and the government, who'd grudgingly accept the utility of keeping him on the payroll even while impatiently awaiting the final sputtering out of the Weird Bollocks.

Instead it seems more like a post-WWII multilateral disarmament treaty? In which case I'm surprised that a lot of people, not least Peter, aren't much more alarmed about Nightingale's breaking of it than they seem to be. (Maybe I've been misreading it, but I've tended to read people's responses as exasperation rather than horror). I hope the stories don't drift too much from "London copper" to "international intrigue" as the stories' world widens, but I am interested in seeing where this is going.

And because I realised I hadn't actually said it among all my pontificating: I enjoyed this one! I'm still sticking to the audiobooks and thought the narrator read it well (I don't speak German, so can't comment on his pronunciation). I agree with GenjiandProust that it felt a bit cramped and could've done with being a bit longer, but it was a fun story and an interesting new perspective on that world.

More mention of Werewolves, too, which was interesting. All I know about them is that they were German (?) units hunting for magic users during WWII, which could have been actual werewolves, humans with a scary reputation, or something else. Has there been light shed on them in the comics?

I hadn't heard of the film and it wouldn't have occurred to me to go looking, so thanks for that d_m.
posted by metaBugs at 4:29 AM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Instead it seems more like a post-WWII multilateral disarmament treaty? In which case I'm surprised that a lot of people, not least Peter, aren't much more alarmed about Nightingale's breaking of it than they seem to be. (Maybe I've been misreading it, but I've tended to read people's responses as exasperation rather than horror). I hope the stories don't drift too much from "London copper" to "international intrigue" as the stories' world widens, but I am interested in seeing where this is going.

I think it's partially because we've gotten Peter's POV on everything so far, and Peter probably doesn't really grok the importance of breaking the agreements, especially since they're the ones breaking them. Kind of like how Tobi doesn't think much about the German research team going back and pulling up information from their past and doesn't think the other countries will care, but Nightingale might have a different feeling when he (eventually) finds out.

Also, in this metaphor, nuclear disarmament might have worked but now there's a bunch of people wandering around operating nuclear power plants without regulation, so maybe that's making people nervous enough that they feel like they're glad to have a reason to re-up again.

If there was anything I wished that we got from this novella that we didn't, it was more information on what the German magical setup and research from the 1920's was like. We've gotten a little bit of that through David Mellenby references in earlier books, but not very much.

And yeah, I like this series being London (and Peter) based. I don't mind the forays into other people and country's points of view, but Peter's narration (and the deep dive into London architecture and history) is a lot of the charm of the books.

Your point about the history of magic reminds me about the other heirs of Newton in The Hanging Tree . . . along with with the famous 'who invented calculus' question.

Has there been light shed on them in the comics?

Not yet!

Other stuff:

There's a a book trailer for the book on twitter.

The Waterstones short story for this one has also made its way over to tumblr, called "Vanessa Sommer's Other Christmas List'.

Also, just in general - thanks to everybody who commented/favorited/participated for the last six months or so. This was a fun discussion!
posted by dinty_moore at 2:02 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thanks for organizing it! I still have to go back and comment on some of the comics, but that may take a bit.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:24 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Okay, one last thing, because I just noticed this and I find these sort of international marketing decisions interesting - there was an announcement for the Spanish versions of Rivers of London and Broken Homes (not sure why not Moon Over Soho or Whispers Under Ground) and the back of the book blurbs are super different. A quick attempt to translate (my Spanish isn't 100%, there may be errors)

Rivers of London:

In London, Magic is out of control!

The young Peter Grant is a freshly minted new constable until one day, during the investigation of a terrible murder, he receives testimony from a very special eyewitness: a ghost! After finding out that magic exists, Grant joins a secret department in Scotland Yard where he investigates the supernatural and, along with the enigmatic Inspector Nightingale, he will perform such unique tasks such as negotiating a treaty between the god and goddess of the Thames, dig up graves in Convent Garden and pursue a vengeful and evil ghost that's sowing chaos throughout the city.

Broken Homes (literally translated to Fatal Families)

Can Constable Peter Grant stop the most dangerous magician in London? The mutilated corpse of a woman and no trace of magic - that's the only thing that Peter Grant finds at the crime scene. But he has reasons to believe that the murderer was a practitioner of magic . . . and all of the clues point at the same place: Skygarden - a council block designed by a madman and inhabited by the desperate. Trying to solve the mystery, Peter Grant and his mentor, Inspector Nightingale, will go into the unknown beyond the Thames, where they will find the darkest secrets in London.

(I have a hard time imagining the Spanish equivalent of the Folly as anything but El Ministerio Del Tiempo, only also decimated by Franco)
posted by dinty_moore at 4:29 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oooh hadn't heard about the Spanish time police series, gunna have to check that out!

I enjoyed October Man but lost the thread of the plot a bit. So many different dudes in the good wine club, sort of lost track of who was suspected of what. I also loved Kelly's reaction to Tobi's river comment. Great moment. Interesting how Tobi, though not totally unconcerned, is much less focused than Peter is on the relationship clean up stuff. Yeah he makes some suggestions about how Kelly can manage getting her mom/daughter to kindergarten but honestly he doesn't seem that helpful. Maybe his nonchalance is made more possible by the existence of a bigger magic police bureaucracy than in the UK, so he has more "other people" to deal with the details?

Also, I've had a growing suspicion for some time that Nightingale's decision to take on Peter was a much bigger deal than he lets on, and that Nightingale is fully aware of that. Like dinty_moore I loved the Director's snark about Nightingale, but I think he knew what he was doing. He's too cosmopolitan and was too involved in setting the agreements up in the first place not to. We only get Peter's POV, not Thomas' and that lets Aaronovitch keep his motivations obscure. I wonder if it was a snap decision in the moment, but one that was built on Nightingale finally being willing to admit that magic was resurgent and needed to be addressed. He's always been one to seize on an opportunity that presents itself to further his deeper plan.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:47 AM on October 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Technically, it's a TV show about time travelling Spanish civil servants, which may or may not increase your interest. It's on Netflix (and fanfare!). Generally I enjoy it, though I find Julián to be a little bit too much of Main Character - damn the rules, my backstory is more important! - sometimes. Tropey and surprisingly funny, and yes, the get to the kill Hitler plot early on.

With Tobi - I wonder if Aaronovitch was setting the baseline for what is considered a typical for a police officer in this universe. Tobi's not a bad police officer, but he's a comfortable one, and one that's not really from the community. Peter and Vanessa care more than average, but Peter also causes more explosions than average, too.

Interesting point about Nightingale! I was all ready to put the rise of other international agencies and anger over breaking the agreements in the pile with everything else that Nightingale missed over the last few decades, but it would make sense that even if he didn't really understand the workings of the demi-monde an non-licensed practitioners, he'd have a good grasp of international practitioner relations - it was arguably his prewar job, after all.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:12 PM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of this series, but I didn't finish this one; I just couldn't get into it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:14 PM on December 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

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