Extract / Preview: Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

Nov - Foxglove Summer 1

Due Diligence

I was just passing the Hoover Centre when I heard Mr Punch scream his rage behind me. Or it might have been someone’s brakes or a distant siren or an Airbus on final approach to Heathrow.
I’d been hearing him off and on since stepping from the top of a tower block in Elephant and Castle. Not a real sound, you understand – an impression, an ex-pression through the city itself – what we might call a super-vestigia if Nightingale wasn’t so dead set against me making up my own terminology.
Sometimes he’s in a threatening mood, sometimes I hear him as a thin wail of despair in amongst the wind moaning around a tube train. Or else he’s pleading and wheedling in the growl of late-night traffic beyond my bedroom window. He’s a mercurial figure, our Mr Punch. As changeable and as dangerous as an away crowd on a Saturday night.

*
This time it was rage and petulance and resentment. I couldn’t understand why, though – it wasn’t him who was driving out of London.

As an institution, the BBC is just over ninety years old. Which means that Nightingale feels comfortable enough around the wireless to have a digital radio in his bathroom. On this he listens to Radio Four while he’s shaving. Presumably he assumes that the presen-ters are still safely attired in evening dress while they tear strips off whatever politician has been offered up as early morning sacrifice on the Today programme. Which is why he heard about the kids going missing before I did – this surprised him.

‘I was under the impression you quite enjoyed the wireless first thing in the morning,’ he said over break-fast after I’d told him it was news to me.

‘I was doing my practice,’ I said. In the weeks fol-lowing the demolition of Skygarden Tower – with me on top of it – I’d been a key witness in three separate investigations, in addition to one by the Department of Professional Standards. I’d spent a great deal of each working day in interview rooms in various nicks around London including the notorious twenty-third floor of the Empress State Building where the serious investigations branch of the DPS keeps its racks and thumbscrews.

This meant that I’d gotten into the habit of getting up early to do my practice and get in some time in the gym before heading off to answer the same bloody question five different ways. It was just as well, since I hadn’t exactly been sleeping well since Lesley had tasered me in the back. By the start of August the interviews had dried up, but the habit – and the insomnia – had stuck.

‘Has there been a request for assistance?’ I asked. ‘With regard to the formal investigation, no,’ said Nightingale. ‘But where children are concerned we have certain responsibilities.’

There were two of them, both girls, both aged eleven, both missing from two separate family homes in the same village in North Herefordshire. The first 999 call had been at just after nine o’clock the previous morn-ing and it first hit media attention in the evening when the girls’ mobile phones were found at a local war memorial over a thousand metres from their homes. Overnight it went from local to national and, according to the Today programme, large-scale searches were due to commence that morning.

I knew the Folly had national responsibilities in a sort of de facto under-the-table way that nobody liked to talk about. But I couldn’t see how that related to missing kids.

‘Regrettably, in the past,’ said Nightingale, ‘children were occasionally used in the practice of . . .’ he groped around for the right term, ‘unethical types of magic. It’s always been our policy to keep an eye on miss-ing child cases and, where necessary, check to make sure that certain individuals in the proximity are not involved.’

‘Certain individuals?’ I asked. ‘Hedge wizards and the like,’ he said.

In Folly parlance a ‘hedge wizard’ was any magical practitioner who had either picked up their skills ad hoc from outside the Folly or who had retired to seclusion in the countryside – what Nightingale called ‘rusticat-ed’. We both looked over to where Varvara Sidorovna Tamonina, formerly of the 365th Special Regiment of the Red Army, was sitting at her table on the other side of the breakfast room, drinking black coffee and read-ing Cosmopolitan. Varvara Sidorovna, trained by the Red Army, definitely fell into the ‘and the like’ category. But since she’d been lodging with us while awaiting trial for the last two months she, at least, was unlikely to be involved.

Amazingly, Varvara had appeared for breakfast before me, looking bright eyed for a woman I’d seen put away the best part of two bottles of Stoli the night before. Me and Nightingale had been trying to get her drunk in the hope of prising more information on the Faceless Man out of her, but we got nothing except some really dis-gusting jokes – many of which didn’t translate very well. Still, the vodka had knocked me out handily and I’d got most of a night’s sleep.

‘So, like ViSOR,’ I said.

‘Is that the list of sex offenders?’ asked Nightingale, who wisely never bothered to memorise an acronym until it had lasted at least ten years. I told him that it was, and he considered the question while pouring an-other cup of tea.

‘Better to think of ours as a register of vulnerable people,’ he said. ‘Our task in this instance is to ensure they haven’t become entangled in something they may later regret.’

‘Do you think it’s likely in this case?’ I asked.

‘Not terribly likely, no,’ said Nightingale. ‘But it’s always better to err on the side of caution in these matters. And besides,’ he smiled, ‘it will do you good to get out of the city for a couple of days.’

‘Because nothing cheers me up like a good child abduction,’ I said.

‘Quite,’ said Nightingale.

So, after breakfast I spent an hour in the tech cave pulling background off the network and making sure my laptop was properly charged up. I’d just re-qualified for my level 1 public order certificate and I threw my PSU bag into the back of the Asbo Mark 2 along with an overnight bag. I didn’t think my flame-retardant overall would be necessary, but my chunky PSU boots were a better bet than my street shoes. I’ve been to the country-side before, and I learn from my mistakes.

I popped back to the Folly proper and met Nightingale in the main library where he handed me a manila folder tied up with faded red ribbons. Inside were about thirty pages of tissue-thin paper covered in densely typed text and what was obviously a photostat of an identity docu-ment of some sort.

‘Hugh Oswald,’ said Nightingale. ‘Fought at Antwerp and Ettersberg.’

‘He survived Ettersberg?’

Nightingale looked away. ‘He made it back to Eng-land,’ he said. ‘But he suffered from what I’m told is now called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still lives on a medical pension – took up beekeeping.’

‘How strong is he?’

‘Well, you wouldn’t want to test him,’ said Nightingale. ‘But I suspect he’s out of practice.’

‘And if I suspect something?’

‘Keep it to yourself, make a discreet withdrawal and telephone me at the first opportunity,’ he said.

Before I could make it out the back door Molly came gliding out of her kitchen domain and intercepted me. She gave me a thin smile and tilted her head to one side in inquiry.

‘I thought I’d stop on the way up,’ I said.

The pale skin between her thin black eyebrows furrowed.

‘I didn’t want to put you to any trouble,’ I said. Molly held up an orange Sainsbury’s bag in one long-fingered hand. I took it. It was surprisingly heavy. ‘What’s in it?’ I asked but Molly merely smiled, showing too many teeth, turned and drifted away.

I hefted the bag gingerly – there’d been less offal of late, but Molly could still be pretty eccentric in her culinary combinations. I made a point of stowing the bag in the shaded footwell of the back seat. Whatever was in the sandwiches, you didn’t want them getting too warm and going off, or starting to smell, or spontaneously mutating into a new life form.

It was a brilliant London day as I set out – the sky was blue, the tourists were blocking the pavements along the Euston Road, and the commuters panted out of their open windows and stared longingly as the fit young people strolled past in shorts and summer dresses. Pausing to tank up at a garage I know near Warwick Avenue, I tangled with the temporary one-way system around Paddington, climbed aboard the A40, bid farewell to the Art Deco magnificence of the Hoover Building and set course for what Londoners like to think of as ‘everywhere else’.

 

Nov - Foxglove Summer
FOXGLOVE SUMMER
Ben Aaronovitch
9780575132528
PB
£8.99
Gollancz
PC Peter Grant
5
The fifth of the Sunday Times Bestselling series sees PC Grant looking for missing children. And missing London.
In the fifth of his bestselling series Ben Aaronovitch takes Peter Grant out of whatever comfort zone he might have found and takes him out of London – to a small village in Herefordshire where the local police are reluctant to admit that there might be a supernatural element to the disappearance of some local children. But while you can take the London copper out of London you can’t take the London out of the copper.
Travelling west with Beverley Brook, Peter soon finds himself caught up in a deep mystery and having to tackle local cops and local gods. And what’s more all the shops are closed by 4pm …

*

* Our Profile of BEN AARONOVITCH

* Click here for MORE JUL-DEC TITLES FROM GOLLANCZ

* Click here for MORE TOP RECOMMENDS COMING IN JULY

And there’s more extracts from our pick of titles – you can see in order of most recent in our EXTRACTS ARTICLES CATEGORY,  and below in order that we put them out!

DAVE VS THE MONSTERS: EMERGENCE – John Birmingham
SKY PIRATES – Liesel Schwarz
BLOOD RED CITY – Justin Richards
RADIANT STATE – Peter Higgins
THE SUMMONER – Taran Matharu
MARKED – Sue Tingey
BETE – Adam Roberts
FOUL TIDES TURNING – Stephen Hunt
STEEPLE – John Wallace
CRASHING HEAVEN – Al Robertson
BENEATH LONDON – James Blaylock
OUR LADY OF THE STREETS – Tom Pollock
CAUSAL ANGEL – Hannu Rajaniemi
YOUR SERVANTS AND YOUR PEOPLE – David Towsey
THE SEVENTH MISS HADFIELD – Anna Caltabiano
DETECTIVE STRONGOAK AND THE CASE OF THE DEAD ELF – Terry Newman
THE RELIC GUILD – Edward Cox
FOXGLOVE SUMMER – Ben Aaronovitch
THE MOON AND THE SUN – Vonda McIntyre
PATH OF GODS – Snorri Kristjansson
TIME SALVAGER – Wesley Chu
REGENERATION – Stephanie Saulter
THE SUPERNATURAL ENHANCEMENTS – Edgar Cantero
THE RETURN OF THE DISCONTINUED MAN – Mark Hodder
THE MARTIAN – Andy Weir
KOKO THE MIGHTY – Kieran Shea
THE UNNOTICEABLES – Robert Brockway
IF/THEN – Matthew de Abaitua
THE SAND MEN – Christopher Fowler
THE DRAGON ENGINE – Andy Remic
YOUR RESTING PLACE – David Towsey
THE NIGHT CLOCK – Paul Meloy
MYTHMAKER – Marianne de Pierres
THE RETURN OF THE ARINN – Frank P Ryan
WAY DOWN DARK – J P Smythe
LIMIT – Frank Schatzing
DREAMLAND – Robert L Anderson
THE ARK – Patrick S Tomlinson