Saturday, November 26, 2016

What we're reading: Jack the Ripper

Readers of this blog know that a lot of my posts revolve around mystery series that I get stuck into and pursue for many volumes. And so those same readers have had to put up with my disgruntled reaction when one of those volumes doesn't live up to the rest. I'm sorry to say that this is the case with Lost and Gone Forever, the latest Murder Squad mystery by Alex Grecian.

I have enjoyed most of these books that explore the beginnings of modern detection and forensics in Victorian England with the formation of a special squad at Scotland Yard. And I can't say that I did not enjoy this one at all; but I have a particular beef that I'm hoping Grecian resolves in his next novel for this series.

This book takes up about a year after The Harvest Man left off. Walter Day has now been missing for more than a year, and although the search for him has been mostly put on the back burner by the Murder Squad, the presumption is that he may still be alive, and that "Saucy Jack" (Jack the Ripper) was his kidnapper and may still be his keeper. Nevil Hammersmith, who lost his job at the Yard due to some of his rash actions in his past two cases, has set up on his own as a private detective; but his one and only priority is to find Walter Day (and he is being paid by Day's wife to do so), indulging his obsession with the Ripper in the process, so the two women who work for him (one of whom we met in a previous volume as a victim of the Harvest Man) have to pursue other cases to keep the business afloat. Day's wife, Clare, has published her book of children's poems and is now trying her hand at a short story, which serves as a plot device and metaphor. And Clare's father, one of the members of a secret society responsible for the inadvertent release of Jack back into society, has hired a couple of notorious bounty hunters to search for and kill Jack before Jack kills him.

The problem I have with this book is that the focus is still, tediously, on Jack the Ripper. While I did wish to know what happened to Walter Day, we don't really find out much except in an extremely oblique manner--the focus is much more on Jack's effect on Walter than it is on Walter himself. There are elements of the story that are interesting, especially the use of Plumm's Department Store as the setting for much of the action, but I'm really hoping that this is Mr. Grecian's last obsessive hurrah regarding Jack, because apart from that story, there isn't much here. I didn't understand the incorporation of the thoroughly nasty and opaquely mysterious Parkers (unless there is some historical theory of which I am unaware but which their presence in the story fulfills); I didn't care for the children's story plot device (it was just weird); and Nevil Hammersmith's continued cluelessness about Fiona Kingsley's feelings for him makes me want to kill him myself, instead of waiting for Jack to do so!

I have greatly enjoyed the writing, the characters, and the plotting of previous books, and am really hoping that the next outing with the Murder Squad has absolutely nothing to do with "that guy"!

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