Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


Posts Tagged ‘child labor’

THE YARD by Alex Grecian: Book Review

Before we get too nostalgic about the “good old days,” perhaps we should reflect for a moment about Victorian England.  No child labor laws meant that children as young as five worked twelve hour days as chimney sweeps and in coal mines, to name just two perilous fields.  Boys were stuffed up chimneys to sweep out the accumulated coal dust; boys and girls spent their working days in the narrow alleys of pitch black mines, waiting to open and close the doors for the coal-laden trolleys.  And girls as young as ten were “tweenies,” maids in well-to-do households who got up before daybreak to light the fireplaces.  Plus there were the “workhouses,” but the less said about them, the better.

It’s the year 1889 in London, in the latter part of Queen Victoria’s reign.  Scotland Yard is trying to recover from the horrific murders committed by the man known as Jack the Ripper.  Morale at the Yard is low, and the public’s opinion of the Yard is even lower.  The new commissioner of police, Sir Edward Bradford, is determined to modernize the force and bring respect back to the institution.

The Yard opens with the discovery of a corpse inside a steamer trunk found in a London railway station. The body is that of Inspector Christian Little, his eyelids and lips sewn shut, and the officers standing by the body are naturally horrified.  The newest detective on the force, Detective Inspector Walter Day, is given the assignment of bringing the killer to justice.  And Dr. Bernard Kingsley, a surgeon who has been giving of his time and knowledge in an effort to bring new forensic practices to Scotland Yard, is joining the effort.

Two lowly constables in the already stretched police force are looking into another crime, one officer reluctantly and one whose background makes the case a personal crusade.  Nevil Hammersmith, remembering only too well his own upbringing as a child laborer, is horrified when he finds a boy’s corpse stuffed inside a chimney in a doctor’s house.  “You must stop thinking of this body as a boy.  This is a laborer….Nobody cares about this body, and it is not our job to take up lost cases,” one of Nevil’s superiors tells him.  But Nevil persists in his efforts to find who left the young boy wedged up the chimney and didn’t care enough to return to get him out before he baked to death.

What struck me most in reading The Yard is how Alex Grecian, a first-time novelist, made each character stand out.  Between the police in the newly formed Murder Squad, the two prostitutes still reeling from the unsolved Jack the Ripper attacks, the forward-thinking doctor and his young daughter who is his assistant, and the force’s official tailor, there are more than a couple of dozen characters to keep track of.  By his skillful writing, the author makes that an easy and pleasurable task.  I found that I cared about or was fascinated by each one of them.  The Yard is a masterful debut.

You can read more about Alex Grecian at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at this web site.