The Yard by Alex Grecian
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I wasn't looking for much more in Alex Grecian's The Yard, other than a night's entertainment, and so I won't say I was disappointed. This is not so much a novel in any literary sense; the novelist has precious little to say, doesn't have much of an ear for the period, and writes in the kind of alternating dialogue and short, declarative sentences that suggest comic books. Appropriate that, as this is the first book Mr. Grecian has written without pictures. Actually, the result reads like nothing so much as an episode of old detective TV; backlot London, full of fog-machines and not-quite-convincing Cockneys, calling the rather bland domestic leads, "Guv'nor," in dinner theater accents;less The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, than "a very special episode of Murder She Wrote."
I can't fault the writer's research necessarily as some of the tin turns out, after the laziest search, to be just plausible historically, though words like "mugger" still sound wrong. (I've never encountered it in any novel of the period, or even in Mayhew's London -- though that may be where the novelist found it, for all I know or frankly care.) That said, like so many mystery and thriller writers who will write historical novels, I'm always shocked at how little like Victorians most, including Mr. Grecian, can be bothered to make either their prose or their characters sound. (Again, the feeling is always more Hammer Studios than Hammersmith.) Here there are not one or two, but perhaps as many as half a dozen fairly major characters -- and here I'm thinking of just the women -- not one of whom speaks or behaves as any woman of her period and class ever did, could or would have. Whether it's a timid wife transformed overnight into quite improper sort of poisoner, a slattern with just a glimmer of new gold in her heart, or a respectable schoolgirl anatomist put out unexpectedly to char, none of them ring true to either the time or their class, and here I'll just mention without further comment the murderous, lesbian barbering whores.
I don't think saying any of that can spoil what fun there is to be had from this book. Comparisons in some recent major reviews to either Dickens or Wilkie Collins are, naturally, just embarrassing; nothing about this book suggests that Alex Grecian has ever so much as read either gentleman, except perhaps as classic comics, let alone tried to imitate them. (I don't know that he could if he wanted to.) So, The Yard should be taken for what it is: a fast, silly, brutal, cartoon of Victorian Scotland Yard, and enjoyed for the evening it takes to read it.
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