Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA
Whatever happened to the days when murderers were easy to capture?
When they killed because they had motive, not because they enjoyed the experience? That’s the question Scotland Yard detectives are asking themselves in The Yard, a tale of murder and mystery in the days following the Ripper murders in London by first-time novelist Alex Grecian.
The Yard is not about Jack the Ripper. Instead, its story takes place after the Ripper murders, when tensions in London are running high for the simple reason that the Ripper was never caught. Faith in Scotland Yard and the police is at an all-time low. In fact, things are so bad that the police are actually looked down upon and thought of as incompetent.
To combat this perception, newly appointed Commissioner of the Police Sir Edward Bradford assembles a special unit of Scotland Yard inspectors called the Murder Squad whose job it is to concentrate solely on solving the crime of murder in the city. But things get ugly when one of their own, Inspector Little, is killed, his dismembered body discovered in a trunk.
Sir Edward places Inspector Walter Day in charge of the Inspector Little Case. Day is the newest detective at the Yard, and Sir Edward believes Day is best suited for the job because he’s the least emotionally tied to the case, as he didn’t know Little as well as the other detectives did.
Day is assisted by Dr. Bernard Kingsley, the local coroner, a progressive thinking man who utilizes such modern methods as fingerprinting, a procedure which most detectives of the day scoff at. But Day believes in Kingsley’s methods and leans on the doctor’s talents, utilizing information from his autopsy reports to help him solve the case.
Meanwhile, Constable Nevil Hammersmith discovers the body of a dead five year-old boy stuck inside a chimney but is told not to spend time on such an unimportant case, as his superiors advise him to concentrate on the police murderer, especially when the body of another slain policeman is discovered. But Hammersmith is scarred by a traumatic childhood, and he refuses to let the murder of a young child go unsolved, and so he disobeys his superiors and sets out to solve the case on his own.
The Yard has its hands full, as crime in London is running rampant. As the police struggle to solve the seemingly endless pile of caseloads covering their desks, they wonder if life in the post-Ripper world will ever be the same again.
For the most part, The Yard is a very entertaining read. I definitely enjoyed the story, and author Alex Grecian includes plenty of details to make the 19th century setting of London, England, believable. I also enjoyed the characters in this one. Grecian does a nice job fleshing them out.
The three central characters are all very likable. Main hero Inspector Walter Day wants to do right by his career, which is just starting out, both for professional reasons and personal, as he has a young wife at home to support. Day is full of self-doubt, and at first he questions Commissioner Bradford’s decision to put him in charge of the Little case. Day fears his fellow detectives will shun him and question why he was put in charge when he has so little experience. But this isn’t what happens, as he quickly earns the respect of his fellow detectives. He also has the full support of his Commissioner.
Day also worries about his marriage. His wife comes from a wealthy family, and she’s used to a much more extravagant lifestyle than he’s able to afford her on his policeman’s salary. But she loves him, and she tells him continually that money is not an issue for her.
Whereas Day is the intellectual self-disciplined detective, Constable Nevil Hammersmith is the emotional, physical police officer who’s not above disobeying his superiors to solve a crime. He’s also the voice of the voiceless, as he refuses to let the murder of a nameless child go unsolved. Interestingly enough, in spite of his methods, he too has the support of Commissioner Bradford, who seems to have an eye for good policemen, regardless of how they get the job done.
Dr. Bernard Kingsley was probably my favorite character in the novel. He’s an eccentric medic who gets some of the better lines in the story. He also performs some grisly autopsies that are not for the squeamish. His use of modern day crime-detecting methods, from fingerprinting to identifying hairs found on the victim’s clothing, is intriguing and helps to make him a fascinating character.
The supporting characters are also fleshed out nicely, as are the villains in this story.
If there’s one thing I didn’t like about The Yard it’s that at times there are too many things going on at once. I was most interested in the main story of the killer on the loose murdering police detectives, and when the novel veered away from this plot, it just wasn’t as gripping. At times, it played like a drama about a day-in-the-life of Scotland Yard detectives rather than a story of an all-out manhunt for a deranged police killer. This isn’t awful. It’s simply not as exciting as a serial murder case.
I did enjoy the theme of the book, that the society of the time was growing sicker, that in the “old days,” crimes were simpler to solve. If someone committed a murder, they had a motive- they were cheated or wronged in some way, and killed in heated jealousy, and once the police discovered the motive, they found the killer. But the inspectors in The Yard lament that crimes in their day have no clear-cut motive. People seem to be killing without reason, the sort of thing started by the Ripper. The police feel overwhelmed and defeated by this new style of killing, fearing their world of law and order is slipping away from them.
The Yard has enough atmosphere, plot twists, and intriguing characters to keep you reading page after page, even if it does get a bit sidetracked at times with its multiple storylines. Overall, it’s a fun read, one that I heartily recommend.