The Black Country Hardcover – May 21 2013
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“It isn’t often that a mystery-thriller enthralls so completely . . . but as usual with Mr. Grecian, there is more to this tale than complex plotting. [The] book brings to life the murky collision of two worlds in the Victorian era: traditional folklore and modern science. This intersection, captured so well by authors of the period, from Charles Dickens to Thomas Hardy, was fraught with complex questions about identity, authority, and belief . . . The Black Country captures all of these nuances while preserving the fast-paced plotting and breathlessness of a first-rate thriller . . . Whether you read the tale in the dark night of winter of the haze of a summer sun, be prepared for the chill. The days are dark in Black Country.”—The Huffington Post
“I enjoyed the swift pacing of Grecian's story, its abundant period detail and its exuberantly gruesome tone . . . The gentlemanly, no-nonsense banter of the detectives in the face of evil is one of the prime pleasures of this riveting Victorian procedural.”—NPR.org
“Grecian’s (The Yard) latest Murder Squad adventure is a fast-paced homage to the Victorian countryside mysteries of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens. Recommended for Anglophiles, period mystery enthusiasts, and anyone interested in medical Victoriana.”—Library Journal
“Grecian’s riveting novel is an intelligent historical thriller similar to Jean Zimmerman’s atmospheric psychological novel The Orphanmaster (2012), and as shocking as David Morrell’s Murder as a Fine Art (2013).”—Booklist (starred review)
“Startling and spooky . . . [a] bold melding of horror with historical elements.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“[Grecian] presents with fine precision the gray and gritty atmosphere of late-Victorian England.”—Kirkus
Praise for THE YARD
“Outstanding. If Charles Dickens isn’t somewhere clapping his hands for this, Wilkie Collins surely is.”—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
"Lusciously rich with detail, atmosphere, and history, and yet as fast paced as a locomotive, The Yard will keep you riveted from page one. It's truly a one- or two-sitting read."—Jeffery Deaver, author of Carte Blanche and The Bone Collector
About the Author
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Top Customer Reviews
His second book The Black Country brings back the investigators from Scotland Yard's Murder Squad.
Grecian starts off the book with a quick little 'gotcha' scene. A little girl climbing a tree finds something of great interest in a bird's nest - what she thinks is a lovely little blue egg - but it's an blue eye....
1899. Detective Day and Sergeant Hammersmith are sent to the small mining town of Blackhampton in the British Midlands. Two of the town's residents and their young son have vanished and the local constable is in over his head.
But what Day and Hammersmith find is not a town overly worried about the loss of three of their residents, but an insular mining town full of superstitions, suspicions and secrets. No one is willing to talk to the detectives, instead they seem bent on stopping the investigation in its tracks. A stranger who's only been in town for two weeks with his own agenda is more welcomed than Day and Hammersmith.
The Black Country is a busy book - the town is falling into the tunnels beneath, the townsfolk are falling sick from a mysterious malady, the children of the town are afraid of a boogeyman they've named "Raw Head, Bloody Bones", the weather is just as determined as the murderer to kill off a few more folks and the mysterious stranger has another mysterious stranger after him. A lot of plot? Oh, for sure - but I loved it!
What drew me to the first book has again captured me in The Black Country. I love the time period, but I especially enjoy these characters.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As far as continuity, the characters(Day and Hammersmith) are poorly developed. By that I mean by the end of the book we hardly know more about than we did at the end of The Yard. It's like Grecian assumes that everyone has read The Yard and decided to forgoe including any additional details about the main characters. But even if, like me, you've read The Yard you'll be(or should be) disappointed that he didn't expand on them. New readers won't necessarily be lost, but I think they will be missing out on getting a more robust, well-rounded read out of The Black Country. Overall, this is a pretty decent read that could have been much better if there weren't so many Swiss cheese plot holes and the author had further developed the characters(and maybe given a refresher course for the new readers). I definitely don't recommend reading The Black Country if you haven't read The Yard. Even then, I only say read it if you can get it at your local library or you can pick up a cheap copy somewhere. Def not worth full price though. Hopefully Grecian will do a better job with the next book. I give the book 3.5 stars out of 5.
Day and Hammersmith soon realise that they are not welcome in the village and the atmosphere of a closed community is very well drawn with all its claustrophobia and suspicion. It seems just about everyone knows what is going on but is unwilling or unable to tell Day and Hammersmith. I liked the Victorian background and the way buildings are prone to disappear into the earth without any warning. The snow storms also add to the atmosphere.
I did enjoy this book but felt that too much of the violence was included for the sake of the effect it produces on the reader. It could all have been hinted at rather than graphically described without any loss to the story. Day and Hammersmith are interesting characters and I have already started reading the next book in the series though I suspect there is going to be rather too much graphic violence in that one for my taste too.
Set in the old coal mining village of Blackhampton in 1890, the story revolves around Inspector Day and his companion, Sergeant Hammersmith, trying to find a lost boy and his missing parents. Three other children of the parents are still in the village when Day and Hammersmith arrive, but the children are strangely uncooperative - so Day and Hammersmith (and us) know that something is not quite so straightforward with the family and the disappearances. But what? And does that have any actual helpful bearing on finding the boy and his parents?
Meanwhile, we have a cast of interesting village characters - a superstitious innkeeper quick to judge and condemn, a parson whose old wife slips Day a cryptic note, a visiting ornithologist, and a coal mining village whose people are falling ill at a rapid rate. Indeed, the air seems full of coal dust, enough to quickly bring Hammersmith to feeling ill and make Day want to get this case over with quickly so he can get back to London.
If you've seen the BBC or BBC America's Ripper Street, you'll realize that the author nailed the characters, their manner of speech, and their odd quirks and pseudo-science beliefs mixed with superstition. There were many times reading this book that I wondered if Grecian might either be a fan of the series or be one of the writers, so easily did images and sounds from the series blend with Grecian's descriptions and scenes. Admittedly, the concept of the coal mining village slowly sinking as a result of all the mine tunnels dug over the decades below it - well, that sounded a bit implausible at first - so I went online and in the first page of a google search, found a lot of news even today of this happening all around the world from Allentown, Pennsylvania, to Mongolia, to Hunan Province in China, villages in the Balkans, and so on. The photos online sure look a lot like what Grecian describes happening in Blackhampton, so he did an excellent job there as well.
The dialogue is crisp and smartly written; timed perfectly throughout the story to help things move along. I've a pet peeve with mysteries that tell you things rather than letting you "discover" them or realize them through dialogue and character actions. I'm happy to say that Grecian is not a "tell you what to believe" but rather a "shows you what's happening" and he lets you draw your own conclusions. Indeed, part of the joy of an excellent mystery is challenging yourself to figure out whodunit before the inspector. Here The Black Country (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad) succeeds, but not perfectly. I certainly figured out at least who was actually involved in the murder before Day and Hammersmith - you will too - but I do admit that I did not put all the pieces together to figure out how it all went down until the end. There are also some parts of the story that are not resolved - what prompted Day's doctor, Dr. Kingsley, who arrives later in the story - to run an experiment upon his first arrival in the village, what happens to some of the other characters in the book, and so on. At the end of the day, though, these are minor "I wish..." quibbles and do not justify detracting even half a star from the book. If anything, they lend credence to the concept that the world goes on around Day and Hammersmith (and us) whether the two are there to see it or not. It also helps, I believe, remind us that these two - for very different reasons - are uncomfortable in the coal mining village and long to put it behind them and get back to their lives in London.
Finally, a word of caution. Once picked up, The Black Country (Scotland Yard's Murder Squad) is very hard to put down. There are two "interlude" chapters where Grecian gives some backdrop history to two characters. If you plan on getting any sleep the night you start reading the book, take advantage of these interludes and set the book down. You won't be able to stop turning the pages otherwise.