Wednesday, August 14, 2013

What we're reading: Murder Squad

Last year "Aunt Agatha," our Death in the Stacks maven of everything mysterious, awarded The Yard, by new writer Alex Grecian, her "best book of 2012" encomium. Now Grecian is back, with the second in his series about Scotland Yard's newly formed Murder Squad, and it's a weird and wonderful story.

In The Black Country, the detectives from Scotland Yard have been called out of London to solve a mystery in the Midlands mining town of Blackhampton. A couple and their toddler have gone missing, inexplicably leaving their other three children behind; then the barkeep's daughter finds an eyeball in a bird’s nest and the local constable, out of his depth, decides to send for help from Scotland Yard. When the detectives get there, every encounter makes the locals' story more baffling. The villagers are rife with old-fashioned superstitions, the village itself is sinking into the mines beneath it, and half the population has been stricken with some kind of dreadful illness. Then there's the mysterious figure lurking in the woods, bearing an eerie resemblance to a monster from a children’s rhyme, called "Rawhead and Bloody Bones."

All of my favorite characters from the first book--Inspector Walter Day, Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith, and Dr. Kingsley--are back. The good doctor is accompanied by his new assistant, Henry (the dancing man from book one), and other familiar characters (Kingsley's daughter, Fiona, and Day's wife, Clare) make an appearance as well. The action takes place over a comparatively short period of time, but boy, is it action-packed! There are back stories, there are side stories, there are strange stories...I was initially a bit confused about how they hung together, but by the end all is made clear. We also keep up with background details (Clare Day is about to give birth to their first child and Fiona Kingsley still has a crush on Sergeant Hammersmith, who is, as usual, oblivious to everything but the case!). The pacing and plot twists will leave you breathless, the descriptions of the locale and the people are atmospheric and eerie, and the examination of the early days of forensic science lends an extra cachet. I wasn't sure at first that I would like this book as well as Grecian's first, but he justified the kudos he received for The Yard with this continuation of the adventures of the Murder Squad. I look forward to more!

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