Set in chaotic London in the aftermath of Jack the Ripper’s unsolved murders where police morale is low, while the public’s distrust is high, Walter Day, a Constable from Devon, becomes the newest addition to Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad.
Less than a week on the job, Inspector Day is handed his first case – a brutal murder of fellow detective, Inspector Little. Not known to have been missing, Inspector Little’s body is found mutilated and stuffed into a trunk left in a busy London railway station. Being new in the Yard with no attachment to Inspector Little, Inspector Day decides to take on Inspector Little’s murder case. With only a handful of detectives in the Murder Squad and hundreds of unsolved cases, the Yard finds itself stretched almost to breaking point, with overworked and underpaid members.
Joining Inspector Day in solving Inspector Little’s murder is a colorful group of law enforcers with their own troubles, quirks and idiosyncrasies. There’s Inspector Blacker, a fellow member of the Murder Squad with an annoying habit of making bad puns and tasteless jokes; Overly dedicated Constable Hammersmith who has a very strong sense of justice; Constable Pringle, who seemed to join the force only for the uniform and to impress the girls; Sir Edward Bradford, the one-armed Colonel who spent most of his adult life in India, and Dr. Kingsley, a doctor at a university who took it upon himself to help the Yard with their forensic work. Inspector Day himself is an earnest, honest law enforcer, though a bit unsure of his qualifications as a detective.
The Yard is different from other crime novels in that it focuses less on the actual crimes committed and more on the different members of Scotland Yard. I say this because almost from the start, the identity of Inspector Little’s killer is known to the readers, and even by members of the Yard, though his connection to the murders is yet unknown. And instead of one major murder case, there are several loosely connected cases being solved throughout the novel by the different members of the Yard,
There is also very little focus on the criminal minds of Inspector Little’s killer, as well as the other unsavory Londoners who play a part in the story. Instead, the novel focuses on the roles of the different law enforcers of Scotland Yard – the constables, sergeants, and detectives, and the dynamics of their relationships with one another.
It’s also interesting to note that in the late 1800’s, forensic science which police rely heavily on these days to solve murderers and other crimes was almost non-existent at the time. Dr. Kingsley, the forward-thinking doctor who volunteers his time to autopsy murder victims, at one point eagerly demonstrates to the detectives and Colonel the uniqueness of finger patterns (the term “fingerprint” hasn’t been coined yet), and how they can be lifted from certain objects with the use of charcoal powder, thus helping to identify, or at least, to eliminate suspects at a crime scene. Though fascinated, the detectives are skeptical about the usefulness of the technique, and find the task of collecting the finger patterns of every criminal they come across daunting.
The Yard is a fast-paced, interesting read, with very short chapters (sometimes one page each), interspersed with short “Interludes,” about some of the characters’ pasts, such as Inspector Day, Constable Hammersmith, and Dr. Kingsley. The story is a bit simple, with an improbable ending that ties up too nicely, but, it is highly entertaining nonetheless.
Next up, Book 2 of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad – The Black Country.
The Yard (Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, Book I) (2012) – Alex Grecian
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Personal rating: 3/5