Saturday, 11 January 2014

Book review: "The yard", by Alex Grecian

The Yard is set in the immediate (and literal) aftermath of the Jack the Ripper murders in 1889, in a still-formative detective service that is utterly demoralised by their failure to catch Jack.

When a detective's body is found in a steamer trunk at Euston, with the corpse's mouth and eyes stitched shut, it falls upon newly-promoted Detective Day to find the killer.

The characters are very well, if lightly drawn; the detectives all have set characters, and you can almost read the plot from those characters: you can tell the heroes and villains a long time before they are unveiled.

The book is lightly-written, but in this case that is a positive. At nearly 600 pages it is not a short book, and the plot is fairly complex, if linear. The lightness and fast pace means it is a fast read, although without massive depth.

It follows a familiar and well-trodden pattern: there is a lead detective, with a junior policeman as a foil, and a police doctor who helps them look for evidence. But the fact the story is set a a time when police procedures were in their infancy gives it a freshness.

The author is American, and sadly this shows in some of the dialogue. The names of some characters (for instance Hammersmith) may have grated with some, but I actually found they enhanced the book.

The atmospheric touches are also simple (for instance, a man sweeping up the horse dung from the streets), and I learnt nothing I did not already know about mid-Victorian London. Instead of giving you a mirror-sharp image of the times, what you get is a fuzzy, early Kodak box camera-style picture.

However I found these slight problems did not matter, as they were overwhelmed by some great characterisation and a fast-moving plot. By the end, the various plot threads were neatly delivered tied up with a ribbon. I managed to read the book in a fairly intensive day-long reading session and found myself yearning for more.

It is a flawed book, but if you look beyond them there is some real heart. It will not be to everyone's tastes, but it was to mine.

I would give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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