Alex Grecian's The Black Country, just out this month, is a terrific follow-up to The Yard, even if the premise at the beginning of the novel seems a bit weak. Inspector Walter Day, Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith and Dr. Bernard Kingsley supposedly comprise the Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, yet they are sent to the Black Country in the English Midlands to find three people -- a husband, wife and son -- who have been missing for a few days. This does turn into a murder case, but at the time the investigators are dispatched there is no hint of a murder, just some missing people. Would Scotland Yard really send its most elite team of detectives to a rural area to conduct a search? Couldn't lesser men handle such a chore?
It soon develops that these are the right men, after all. There is much going on here in addition to the missing family. Campbell, a large and mysterious stranger in town, appears to have something to hide. A sinister American with a rifle stalks the woods, trying to kill someone. The superstitious innkeeper tries to keep Day and Hammersmith from their search. Most of the townspeople are seriously ill. And this is a coal-mining own located directly above the mines that provide its livelihood. As a consequence, the whole village is sinking into the ground a few inches at a time.
The trio of detectives complement one another nicely. Day, whose wife is expecting their first child, shows compassion, extreme bravery and a mind that never stops working. Hammersmith is a big lug who is ill throughout most of the story, yet keeps chugging along, insisting he is fine. Kingsley is a master of early forensic medicine, finding clues where most detectives in the 19th century would never think to look for them.
Grecian's story is complex enough to be interesting, without becoming convoluted. It moves at a fast pace and, with its brief chapters, seems much shorter than its 386 pages. Anyone who loves Victorian mysteries with lots of atmosphere will enjoy The Black Country.