The Devil’s Workshop (2014) is the third book in Alex Grecian’s Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad series, about the adventures of the inspectors and constables of Victorian London.
The third book takes place in late April, 1890, less than a year after the events of the 1st and 2nd novel. Inspector Walter Day’s wife Claire is pregnant and due and any day now, and Walter Day is having second thoughts about being a father. Without a good father to emulate, Walter Day is insecure about his own abilities to be a good father to his soon-to-arrive son or daughter, but for now, he has to set aside his personal problems as he is called in to Scotland Yard to help solve the case of 4 escaped murderers from Bridewell Prison.
The novel begins with an orchestrated train crash outside the walls of Bridewell Prison, sending cell walls tumbling down, freeing 4 dangerous prisoners with the help of another mysterious man from the inside who is neither jailer nor prisoner. The four prisoners are among the most dangerous in Bridewell; Hoffman, a man who, obsessed with his cousin, kills her lover before killing her; Napper, who follows a random man into his house, kills him, then spends a few days with the man’s wife – eating her; Cinderhouse, the murder / pedophile and main antagonist in the first novel, The Yard, and Walter Day’s first case as a member of the Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad; and a man known only as Harvest Man, who, as a child, was found living with his family long dead. Since the tragic and terrible incident, he has sought out families in their homes, hiding in attics and waiting until they fell asleep to murder them and live with them, in hopes of finding his own long-dead family.
Quite an interesting mix of murderous psychopaths, to be sure, but these 4 are nothing compared to the most dangerous man who was also set loose on London at the same time, unbeknownst to the men of Scotland Yard. This man, whose freedom was in part due to one of the escaped convicts is the most dangerous man to have walked the streets of London – the Devil himself, many believe. Though he was never officially caught by the police, he was caught by secret society called the Karstphanomen, made up of policemen, doctors, and other respectable members of society who believe in taking the law in their own hands and serving justice in their own special way – by locking up criminals in dungeons under the streets of London and punishing them in the same ways that they hurt their victims.
With escaped convicts, a secret society, and the Devil on the loose, The Devil’s Workshop is by far the most exciting, gruesome and bloody book of the series so far. It is fast-paced, action-packed, and has just the right amount of blood and gore you’d expect in a murder/mystery novel. It is dark and disturbing, but light with a touch of humor.
Though interesting and engrossing, the novel is far from perfect, and though I praised it earlier for being fast-paced, there were parts of the novel that seemed rushed with not enough details to describe the action taking place. The plot of the novel is also a bit misleading as it starts out with the Karstphanomen and the 4 escaped convicts, but veers away from them and focuses on something else entirely, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The novel ends a bit abruptly with Inspector Day and Sargent Hammersmith’s careers in question, along with other unanswered issues, but if the epilogue is any indication, we can expect the next novel to be as dark and disturbing as this one, with an equally evil criminal to be caught.
One of the more enjoyable crime novels I’ve read, it grabs readers from the first page and takes them on a suspenseful romp through the dark streets above and below London, but ends all too soon. A perfect novel to read when you’re looking for an escape and just to pass the time.
Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad Series:
The Devil’s Workshop (2014) – Alex Grecian
Penguin Random House; 447 pages (e-book, mobile version)
Personal rating: 3/5