What Abigail Did That Summer is just as you would expect from Ben Aaronovitch. It is an eminently readable return to the world of his Rivers of London series. Set at the same time as Foxglove Summer, it fleshes some of the characters and ideas that are only lightly touched upon in the other books. However, it is self-contained enough that it could be read as a standalone work.
The novella covers Abigail’s investigation into some odd happenings on Hampstead Heath, and she is soon aided by a gang of talking foxes. The foxes’ spy-like methods, and the mystery at the heart of the novella, give the work a similar structure and feel to the other more overtly investigative books in the series.
This sense is heightened by the plot structure, in which the majority of the story happens after the initial chapter which is set reasonably far into the story’s chronology. As such the reader quickly gets a sense of the dangers to come, but is left guessing as to what has happened to get to that point.
I found the in-world explanation for the footnotes is a lovely touch, which both link in characters from other parts of the series and provide a cultural bridge so neatly opening up the novella to different Anglophone markets, in particular the USA. This consideration, alongside the clear depth of research, shows how Aaronovitch is a consummate author who understands how to optimise a series. Part of this is the use of novellas alongside the other novels, which mean there is something new for readers almost every year.
Perhaps I love foxes more than the average person, but I do think that they are what really make the novella quite so enjoyable. With a sense of fun and an obsession with ‘tradecraft’, the foxes’ actions give What Abigail Did Last Summer a hint of spy pastiche. The image of a fox going undercover as a dog by wearing a collar is just hilarious, yet oddly imaginable.
Aaronovitch uses this to slip in a Discworld reference, as the fox has adopted the cover name Gaspode. It is always hard to compare authors and can seem a little trite as everyone seems to be the next X, but in this case, the way in which Aaronovitch writes fantasy with a comic twist and does not ignore the issue of real life makes a comparison to Pratchett almost inevitable. Plus, Aaronovitch frequently mentions Pratchett so his influence is undeniable.
This use of fantasy as an opportunity for humour pervades the novella. Some of the later events which in a way happen outside of normal chronology, give a chance to send up the tropes of different eras. A character’s snide criticism of a 70’s dinner party for its warm German white wine, and red wine that is preferable as “at least it might be the right temperature even if it is South African” is a brilliant parody of certain snobby views.
I doubt I really need to recommend What Abigail Did That Summer to people who have read other parts of the series, but for those that have not, it is a great place to start, with an entertaining mix of humour, suspense, and a perfectly crafted world.
Words by Ed Bedford
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