Can we talk about the cover of this one for a minute? Because surely I was misled. I enjoyed Alex Grecian’s The Yard and I picked it up by chance because my holds at the library weren’t in yet. I work at a Historic Site in New Jersey and we are hosting a Steampunk event again this year so I try to read some Steampunky literature to get into the mood. I saw that particular scrolling typeface on The Yard’s cover; read the dust jacket to make sure it sounded interesting. Via Goodreads: “Victorian London is a cesspool of crime, and Scotland Yard has only twelve detectives—known as “The Murder Squad”—to investigate countless murders every month. Created after the Metropolitan Police’s spectacular failure to capture Jack the Ripper, The Murder Squad suffers rampant public contempt. They have failed their citizens. But no one can anticipate the brutal murder of one of their own . . . one of the twelve . . .When Walter Day, the squad’s newest hire, is assigned the case of the murdered detective, he finds a strange ally in the Yard’s first forensic pathologist, Dr. Bernard Kingsley. Together they track the killer, who clearly is not finished with The Murder Squad . . . but why?” and decided that this one was for me.
So about the cover – the scrolling, large, black capital letter only typeface has become short hand for novels in the Steampunk family. And I realized about 10 pages in, that this book is not steampunk at all, there is absolutely no anachronistic anything throughout. Now, it you want to talk about cutting edge technology for the time, the 1890s in this case, there is a great deal of time spent with the detectives and coroner talking about the new-fangled fingerprint technology and proper science of autopsy.
While not the Steampunk novel I was looking for, this is instead a good old fashioned historical fiction mystery novel. While this book is a bit hefty (432 pages for the Hardcover version) it covers three days in the life of the Murder Squad, somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 dead, and at least three different criminals. While occasionally hard to follow, the chapters are broken up by time following the finding of the murdered detective. The narration also flows back and forth between third person narration from a few characters and then into italicized first person narration from one of the criminals. This is not a spoiler, since the character fesses up pretty quickly.
Was it a perfect story? No. There were perhaps one to many plots, one too many characters and one too many locations to make this a smooth work of fiction. Was I entertained? Absolutely. This one was dense and intense and generally intriguing characters and a time period, the months immediately after the Ripper murders, which is perhaps underutilized in historical fiction. So if you’re looking for a Victorian murder mystery with no steampunk influences this is your book.