Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Post-ripper

I am so close! I've been deliberately listening to long books lately so I can finally get caught up with my posting. Even though there was a vacation in there as an excuse, I've been tearing through these 12- to 15-hour jobs in about a week each giving me no opportunity to keep up!  But here is the last of the (current) backlog: The Yard by Alex Grecian.  I should treasure this moment: Goodness knows, I'll fall behind again sooner rather than later.

The Yard is the first book in a series about the origins of the Murder Squad at Scotland Yard, formed after the failure of the Metropolitan Police to find and arrest Saucy Jack, aka Jack the Ripper in 1888. By creating the Murder Squad to focus solely on homicides, Sir Edward Bradford hopes to regain the confidence the London public once had in their police force. There are only 12 men on the Squad (one of these has moved on without telling his superiors), and at the beginning of the novel they are quickly down to ten as another of their number is found dead in a steamer trunk in the middle of a busy railroad station with his mouth and eyes sewn shut.

Sir Edward assigns the new man, Walter Day, to investigate. The Murder Squad is fortunate to have as its coroner (probably not the name given to this person at this point in time), Dr. Bernard Kingsley. Modeled on the work of pathologist Bernard Spilsbury, Kingsley examines not only the body but the scene of the crime for clues, and he seems to believe that the fingerprints left at the scene may offer additional information. Day and Kingsley begin their investigation, assisted by Constable Nevil Hammersmith, but all too soon there is another police victim.

Grecian tells us who the murderer is almost immediately, and the why comes shortly after that. Then, since the cops seem to be headed down the completely wrong path, it's hours of really quite agonizing suspense before Day gets his man.  The atmosphere is creepy -- fog-bound streets, children in peril, and a second murder that puts the listener in the shoes of the victim as his eyelids are being sewn closed (I did say creepy). And overshadowing everything is the fact that Saucy Jack has not been found. But there are also a lot of awkward scenes and dialogue, a not-very-interesting digression into Day's home life, and the anachronistic use of the term "closure." I'd call it a mixed bag, but I'll probably read the next one.

A new-to-me narrator, Toby Leonard Moore, reads the book. He does a good job with the characters, producing lots of diverse accents (upper class British, Welsh, Cornish, Cockney, etc.) that are consistent and authentic. His characterizations are sympathetic, I was pleased to know these people. I enjoyed this part of his narration a lot. But, oh my, he's an "inhaler." Every single sentence begins with an audible gasp. Add to the mix incredibly lengthy pauses (some are as long as ten seconds) between paragraphs and the book begins to drag terribly.

I get quite a lot of suggestions for good mystery novels from Marilyn Stasio (see here).  But I'm often amused by myself when it's the second book in the series that catches my eye rather than the first. 'Cause then, of course, I've got to go back and start at the beginning.

[John Tenniel's illustration in the September 22, 1888 issue of Punch magazine demonstrates the loss of public confidence that led to the creation of the Murder Squad.  This image was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

The Yard (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, Book 1) by Alex Grecian
Narrated by Toby Leonard Moore
Recorded Books, 2012.  14:42

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