Just months after Scotland Yard spectacularly failed to catch Jack the Ripper, Colonel Sir Edward Bradford has created the Murder Squad-- twelve men put in sole charge of solving all the violent crimes committed in the largest city in the world. Morale has never been lower at the Yard, for their failure to catch the Ripper has turned the population of London against them-- and now someone is killing them, sewing the police officers' eyes and mouths shut and stuffing their bodies in steamer trunks. Detective Inspector Walter Day, the newest member of the Murder Squad, will need all the help he can get from Dr. Bernard Kingsley (the Yard's first forensic pathologist) and Detective Constable Nevil Hammersmith if these murders of their colleagues are to stop.
Even before I finished this book, I wanted to have copies of it magically appear in the hands of all historical mystery fans. When I did finish it, I had to restrain myself from dancing around the house in delight. What a marvelous book!
Alex Grecian's descriptive powers would have Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins clapping him on the back in approval. In The Yard, Victorian London comes to life in all its smelly, crowded and depraved glory. Some readers may glance at the book's almost 600-page bulk (depending on the particular edition) and walk away, but this story reads like a house afire. The murders of the policemen aren't the only crimes Day, Kingsley and Hammersmith wind up investigating either. When the story begins, Day has only been at the Yard a week. As he becomes more accustomed to the men with whom he's working and with workplace routine, he and the other two men begin to pick out similarities in other crimes... and sometimes things just fall into his lap.
Grecian does not leave his villains under cloaks of invisibility until it's time for the ending reveal. No, one by one they raise their masks, pull back their hoods, and show themselves to us. What's brilliant about this is that there's absolutely no reason to despair. This book is about so much more than identifying a few criminals. Knowing their identities and watching them follow the good guys around during their investigations really ratchets up the suspense-- especially when the chase leads Day and Hammersmith through narrow streets in the dead of night or in the creepiest asylum you'll ever have the "pleasure" of exploring.
But more than lush descriptions and an intricate plot, The Yard is about people. We learn the backgrounds of Day, Kingsley and Hammersmith. We come to know them, to like them, and to care about their safety. We see the way they interact with people from every level of society. We learn what they believe to be important. I know that one of the basic tenets of crime fiction is justice-- to right wrongs, to speak for the dead. The Yard does all this and much more, but it's been a long, long time since I've read a book that was filled with so much compassion and humanity. Not only do Day, Kingsley and Hammersmith see the absolute worst that we humans can do-- they still believe we're worth fighting for, and worth saving. This book spoke to me on so many levels. I can't recommend it highly enough.
The Yard by Alex Grecian
Penguin Books © 2013
Paperback, 583 pages
Historical Mystery, #1 Murder Squad mystery
Source: Purchased at Waterstone's, Cambridge, UK