Review

The Black Country: A Novel of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad

by Alex Grecian

A small English village sustained by coal mining and strange superstitions is slowly sinking into the mines that crisscross under the village. It’s a rather bleak place. When a child and his parents go missing, the local constable, knowing his limitations and resources, asks Scotland Yard to help. He wants to uncover what happened to the family and figure out if the eyeball found by a young girl in a bird’s nest belongs to one of the missing.

When Inspector Walter Day and Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith arrive from Scotland Yard, they are stunned by what they find. It’s not just the eyeball that has them confused; no one in the village will talk about the family, or anything else for that matter, and there’s a strange sickness taking over the place. Some are willing to blame it on superstition, and others seem happy to pretend that everything is normal. Day wants answers but meets a solid wall of silence in the form of Blackhampton’s residents. Hammersmith has similar luck when questioning people and seems to be coming down with the same illness afflicting almost half the village. Calvin Campbell, a visitor to Blackhampton who no one knows but oddly everyone seems to trust, becomes a focal point for Day’s investigation. Unfortunately, he can’t pinpoint any connection, and Campbell, like the rest of the residents, won’t talk.

"Even though this is the continuation of a series, it stands on its own just fine. Grecian creates an eerie atmosphere from start to finish, and without giving anything away, the killer here is creepy and unexpected."

THE BLACK COUNTRY is Alex Grecian’s follow-up to THE YARD, the first book in his Scotland Yard's Murder Squad series, though it stands on its own just fine. Grecian creates an eerie atmosphere from start to finish, and without giving anything away, the killer here is creepy and unexpected. I didn’t want to believe it, but there it was, fitting in perfectly with the dark overtones of the book. In fact, I like when that happens and I find myself surprised. Grecian didn’t let his characters off easy, and I appreciate that as a reader.

The village of Blackhampton is the perfect setting --- far away but not completely uncivilized, yet cocooned enough to hold tight to old superstitions. The coldness of the people is much like the weather, and the aloof way they deal with the disappearance of a well-known family is telling. Even the offhand way they think of the mines and the fact that the village is gradually sinking into the very thing that sustains the place and is slowly killing its residents tells you what sort of place it is. Day and Hammersmith aren’t prepared for living in this place, and yet it’s the dead that brought them there. Something is very wrong with not only the place but also the people.

Then there are the secrets. Everyone in Blackhampton has something to hide --- be it an affair, a past, or a murder. People go missing, and there’s always a reason given and a reason accepted by the residents. It’s interesting to see how the village manages to block out change and progress yet holds dearly to old beliefs that no longer hold any ground.

Grecian’s first book made my to-be-read list when it came out. I didn’t get to it but jumped at the chance to read his second. I’m glad I did because it’s a satisfying read, and I plan to go back and delve into THE YARD, which definitely deserves a look. If you enjoy dark mysteries, THE BLACK COUNTRY is worth a read.

Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on May 24, 2013

The Black Country: A Novel of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad
by Alex Grecian