London, the world’s biggest city in the Victorian era, could be a dark and cruel place, but in the late 1880s it was downright terrifying. Jack the Ripper had been on the loose in 1888, murdering women in mostly impoverished areas. His bloody rampage set Scotland Yard on its ear and forever changed crime. Until then, murders were committed by spurned lovers, cuckolded husbands, greedy partners, or impatient heirs, but not by strangers. People didn’t go around killing those they didn’t know; there would be no reason to do that. But Saucy Jack gave life to the term “serial killer” and the city turned edgy. No one knew where Jack would attack next.
"Alex Grecian builds his readers a world in Victorian London and populates it with good guys you’ll want to root for and bad guys you’ll want stopped at any cost. THE YARD spans about three days, just the amount of time you’ll need to race through this intriguing debut novel."
It’s been months now since Jack last struck, but our story begins when a dismembered body turns up stuffed into a trunk, eyelids and mouth sewn shut. With dismay, the Yard recognizes it to be Inspector Little of the Murder Squad. The discovery of one of their own as victim makes it personal to the police. But where do they start? It doesn’t look like Jack’s work, but Jack is a new breed of killer and an enigma to the world.
Detective Inspector Walter Day has recently arrived in London from Devon, wanting to ease himself into the Squad’s ranks. But when he is assigned the lead in the Little case, resentment ripples through the detectives. They are tired, overworked with cases for which they have no time, and the public they have sworn to protect has lost faith due to their failure to catch Jack. Now they also have to deal with Walter Day, who may be a decent enough guy but has caught the lead they all want. They quickly realize, though, that grumbling will get them nowhere.
“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.”
With this new type of killer, the police have to get clever. Of necessity, a fresh approach and new methods have to be invented. It won’t matter that the coppers know in their hearts who did what; they must use conclusive evidence to convict the criminals. This is the dawn of forensic science.
While working the Little case, one of the detectives, Constable Hammersmith, stumbles upon the corpse of a young boy, stuck in a chimney flue. It probably wasn’t a premeditated murder, but someone could have prevented the lad’s death. Hammersmith refuses to let it be, despite explicit orders to use his time solving the Little murder.
Then, with the Squad running down leads and examining evidence, still more bodies show up --- these of men whose beards have been shaved off and their throats cut, but no sewn orifices or chopped-up limbs. One of the inspectors wonders if there’s a murder epidemic going on in London.
In the course of each day, colorful characters cross paths with the police: beggars, street urchins, prostitutes, and an underworld of humanity that lives in the alleys and the workhouses. These are the everyday people down on their luck, and sometimes the detectives show their soft side in their attempts to improve the lot of those less fortunate. The police can use the PR, but they also realize how easily luck can run out on you.
One can almost taste the grit of the city, smell the soot of the chimneys, and hear the clopping of horses’ hooves as the hansoms rumble down cobbled streets. Alex Grecian builds his readers a world in Victorian London and populates it with good guys you’ll want to root for and bad guys you’ll want stopped at any cost. THE YARD spans about three days, just the amount of time you’ll need to race through this intriguing debut novel.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on June 8, 2012