Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: The Yard by Alex Grecian

The Yard
Alex Grecian
432 pages
Putnam Books
Published May 29, 2012
ISBN: 9780399149542



So you read this book, The Yard, by Alex Grecian.

I did.

You liked it?

Sure.

Can you tell me what The Yard is about?

The Yard takes place in London right after Jack the Ripper's reign of terror.  The police force is facing a lot of heat from the public for being unable to catch the Ripper and there's more crime in the city than they can handle.  A group of detectives has been assembled to focus solely on solving murders - they're know as the Murder Squad.  When one of the members of the Murder Squad turns up dead and stuffed into a trunk with his mouth and eyes sewn shut, the detectives know they can't let another one get away.  Surprisingly, the case is given to Walter Day, a country police officer that has been called up to London to join the Murder Squad.  He's new to the city and untested, but he dives right into the case.

Sounds interesting!  What did you like about the book?

I thought it had great atmosphere.  London in the late 1800's was gritty, dark and dirty.  For some reason it felt damp too.  There were some great characters.  I thought that Dr. Bernard Kingsly, the city's first forensic pathologist was the most fun character.  He's a workaholic that runs the city morgue, but he's also looking for clues in the bodies.  During the course of the novel, he pioneers the use of fingerprints as a way to identify suspects - a method that comes in handy throughout the story.

Was Bernard Kingsly a real historical figure?

Not as far as I can tell.  In fact, the use of fingerprint identification was pioneered by Dr. Henry Faulds during that same time period. According to Wikipedia, Faulds tried to convince Scotland Yard of the use of fingerprint identification in 1886, but he was turned away.  Kingsly doesn't appear to be based on Faulds.

UPDATE:


[Follow Alex Grecian (@alexgrecian) on Twitter]

The author is, of course, correct.  Here's the quote from page 168:
"I have been corresponding," Kingsley said, "with a man named Henry Faulds. He's Scottish, a missionary who has spent some time in the Orient. Faulds has been petitioning the Yard of late with a notion he's brought back with him."
I just read up on Dr. Bernard Spilsbury - a fascinating and sort of tragic person!

You're a nerd.  Okay, so if Kingsly wasn't a real person, are there any characters in The Yard that are real historical figures?

Sir Edward Bradford
Yes!  The Commissioner of Police, Sir Edward Bradford, was a real person.  In the story it's Bradford that assigns the big case to Detective Day and he's a supporter of Dr. Kingsly's forensic work.

So is The Yard a mystery?  What can you tell us about the bad guy?

It is a mystery, yes.  The murderer is actually revealed very early in the story and we get a lot of the story from his point of view.  I don't want to say too much about him except that I initially found him to be disappointing.

You say he was initially disappointing.  You changed your mind?

The guy seemed over his head and not very smart.  He sort of accidentally falls into his role as the murderer although you learn that he's got another dark secret.  I expect to be frightened by the bad guy in a book like this and while he's definitely evil, he's a bumbling evil.  If the character isn't that smart then I feel like it undercuts the character's ability to be a truly dark presence in the story.  After I finished the book and had some time to consider all of it's parts I realized that the character was done like that on purpose.

On purpose?

One of the themes of the novel is that the Ripper murders changed London by infecting the city with a new kind of darkness.  The murderer never set out to be a murderer, but once he has his first kill he considers how he will do it better the next time.  I think he's supposed to represent London itself.  On the surface everything appears normal, but the darkness that has always existed beneath the surface is beginning to reveal itself.  The murderer is doing his best to fulfill his new "position" but he continues to fail at his attempts to thwart the police investigation because it's all so new.  The only precedent is the Ripper and nobody knows all that much about the Ripper.

"No. No, this is different. There's no sense to it, and one killer without reason is an oddity, but it seems to me that it's spreading. We had a monster and we couldn't catch him. Now how many monsters are there? It's not just the Ripper anymore. Something's changed in this city and everybody knows it. They're all scared, everybody out there's scared, and it's more than we can deal with."
...
"I know I'm blathering on, but crime's changing and people are changing. This is just the start, mark my words. I think there's too many of us people and we're too close together and we're turning on each other like rats in the gutter. We're in the biggest city in the world, Day, and I think it's trying to get rid of us."

Anything else about the story you want to talk about?

There's a subplot involving the mysterious murders of men with beards and there's a dead child found in a chimney that branches off into yet another subplot.  I guess I should take a moment to talk a bit about the children.  Bad things happen to children in this book.  There is child abduction and dead children and forced child labor.  As a parent, I'm starting to find those kind of things disturbing.  And so it's interesting that I didn't find the primary villain scary, but I was disturbed by the general treatment of children.

This is also the first in a planned trilogy and there are a lot of seeds planted in this book that could very easily sprout and take shape in future books.

What about the author.  What do you know about this Alex Grecian guy?
Proof

Alex Grecian is the author of the graphic novel series Proof.  From what I've read , Proof was very well received.  Prior to writing graphic novels, he worked for an ad agency.  The Yard is is first novel.

Graphic novels, eh?  Could you see a sort of comic book influence in the writing?

Definitely.  The writing, for the most part, was pretty good.  It has the sensibility of a graphic novel - lots of atmosphere, quick dialog, etc.  I enjoyed his descriptions of the seedy places that the detectives visited quite a bit.  The dialog was mostly good.  There were a few times where it felt like he was trying too hard to write in the style of the period, but overall it was fine.

Is there anything you want to say about the reading experience?

I read The Yard on a trip to Georgia.  I had tried to start it a few times at home, but the beginning is a little slow going, so I was having a hard time getting my hooks into it.  Once I got on an airplane and had some time for uninterrupted reading, I really got into it.  The chapters are very short and I generally like that, but I felt like it didn't need some of the chapter breaks that are in there.

In summation?


In summation, The Yard is a nice page-turner, but it's certainly not high literature.  It's a good summer novel and definitely an entertaining read.  I enjoyed it and I'll probably read any future additions to the series.


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