We’re participating in the Debut Authors Giveaway Hop and I’m delighted that our giveaway is for The Yard by debut author Alex Grecian. I love good historical English thrillers and mysteries, so I was delighted when Putnam sent me The Yard. I was really surprised to find that it’s Alex Grecian’s first novel. This is actually a combination of crime fiction and psychological thriller. Now one lucky reader gets a chance to win an advanced readers’ copy (ARC) of The Yard, thanks to the publisher’s generosity!
We’re in Victorian England and it’s 1889. The morale at Scotland Yard is still very low after their failure to capture Jack the Ripper. As if that isn’t bad enough, there are only 12 people assigned to the newly created Murder Squad and they’re sinking under their heavy caseload. Given the low public opinion of their abilities, it’s unlikely they’re going to get the funds to increase the force any time soon. Things just couldn’t be worse for them.
Walter Day is the new guy on the Murder Squad, having moved to London from the Devon police force. It’s the first time there has been a team devoted exclusively to murders but, given the emergence of a new kind of seemingly random killer like the Ripper, this kind of experiment seems justified. The Yard also has a real forensic pathologist for the first time, Dr. Bernard Kingsley. Kingsley has all kinds of ideas about how to better determine how someone died and what minute matters might help to catch killers.
And then something worse does happen. One of their own is found murdered inside of a trunk at the train station. Now it’s personal. They are determined to pull out all of the stops to find the killer.
“One of the uniformed constables standing at the rail looked up. The station was full of citizens who didn’t care about the dead detective in the trunk just so long as they got a chance to see him. Day recognized the terror in the constable’s eyes and could see that he had no idea why he was doing this dangerous job for little money and no respect. In that single moment, in the expression he saw in the other man’s eyes, Day understood that London needed her police, but did not care about them. And he saw, too, that this newfound discovery was something that every policeman on that platform already understood.”
Constable Nevil Hammersmith and his squad partner particularly take the murder to heart since they were close friends with the victim. They’re determined to catch the killer. Hammersmith and Day both have a keen nose for clues, which could put them in danger’s way.
We as readers learn fairly early in the story that the man who was killed simply had the misfortune to accidentally stumble onto something the obsessive murderer would literally do anything to keep secret. The problem is that, having killed once, the murderer is already planning how he will do a better job of killing if any other member of the Murder Squad discovers his secret or gets too close to pinning the first murder on him.
“Across the platform, the detective frowned and gestured to two nearby bobbies.
‘Take this trunk up to University College Hospital right away,’ he said. ‘To Dr. Kingsley’s lab. And be careful with it. The body inside is a detective.’
He spoke too loudly and the crowd gasped. The bald man composed his expression carefully, mirroring the shock he saw on the faces around him…The bald man recognized one of the other police at the edge of the crowd, a young constable named Pringle. He raised a hand and Pringle noticed him…
‘Hello, sir,’ Pringle said. ‘Bad bit of business this morning.’
‘I overheard some of it,’ the bald man said.”
At the center of the story is the trend during that era of kidnapping small children and selling them for various reasons. Some became prostitutes, some were sold as hard laborers, some became chimney climbers for sweeps, and some were sold as companions for lonely adults. None of them had very long life expectancies. The many ways small children were exploited and mistreated could fill a book all by itself. Children had no advocates or laws to protect them and The Yard brings out just how hopeless their plight was during that time period.
The members of the Murder Squad, led by Sir Edward Bradford, present a telling portrait of the difficult conditions in which law enforcement had to work. The condition of the coroner’s office before Dr. Kingsley took over and the still primitive methods being used to try to gather forensic evidence made me wonder how they ever caught any killer during that period.
“’We’re in the dark here, utterly hated by the people we’re trying to help and blindly seeking things we’ll absolutely never find. It’s a miserable experience that I wouldn’t wish on my most intimate enemy.’ [Detective Blacker]
‘Then why are you here?’
‘Because it’s the only game in town, old man. This is the best and only way to feel you’ve got the inside track. Because what you’ll eventually come to realize is that everyone out there is groping around in the dark, too, but in here we know it. Gives us a leg up.’
He winked at Day and, after a long moment, Day laughed.”
I was captivated by The Yard. It was like being a spectator, looking into the conditions of another time – a time not that long ago but yet so far removed from the extraordinary abilities law enforcement and forensic science have available to them today. On top of that, the story is a compelling one that’s humanized greatly by the personalities of the Murder Squad members and the people with whom they interact, including the serial killer and small time street criminals.
I enjoyed every minute of The Yard, even when I was grimacing at events taking place in the story. Life was not a bed of roses in the late 1800’s, and the author does an excellent job of presenting the conditions in which people lived out their lives. If you like gritty crime stories with a psychological thriller edge then you’re in for a treat! And one lucky reader will win an ARC of their own!
Can’t wait to read it?
The Yard was published on May 29, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite bookseller below. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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One lucky reader will win an ARC of The Yard by Alex Grecian!
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