My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Upon finishing this book, my gut reaction in pitching it to people was to highlight its similarity to The Alienist by Caleb Carr, a fantastic historical-fiction mystery set in turn-of-the-century New York City that involves a serial killer and the beginnings of modern forensic science. The Yard is set in the aftermath of Jack the Ripper London and features serial killers as well as the beginnings of modern forensic science. Despite location differences, the bare bones of these novels are very similar.
And yet when I think about The Yard in retrospect, I realize that this comparison is unfair to both of these novels, because while the bare bones are very similar, these novels are very different. Where The Alienist used the mystery to highlight the historical fiction nature of its narrative and truly immerse you in the time period, The Yard uses its time period to highlight its mystery and the characters within it; the “history” part of the historical fiction angle of this novel is, in a way, wholly unimportant.
I don’t mean this as a criticism — not in the slightest — because this focus on the mystery over the history was totally fine for me. This may sound strange, as I’ve railed against other books for doing the same thing, but it comes down to execution. Grecian executes his mystery well, because it’s not really about “whodunnit,” not entirely. You see, we’re introduced to the antagonist quite early, and it becomes more about the antagonsit’s motives, his game of cat-and-mouse with Inspector Day, and how many things are all converging at once upon the single opening murder. It’s an interesting little web of people all getting closer to the heart of a mystery that’s getting revealed to us more and more as the story progresses.
The historical fiction part of this novel is enough for you to get a sense of the time: Victorian London in the wake of Jack the Ripper. The constabulary force has taken a public opinion beating; they’re overworked and undermanned. Social injustice is even more blatant and bile-inducing. This is really all you need to know outside of anything relating to the mystery. Beyond that, I’m sure there are any number of historical errors — did they really use the term “beat cops” and cops walking their “beat”?? — but, in my case, I didn’t mind them all that much because, again, the history is really not the focus of this story. The focus is the characters and mystery they inhabit.
If you can overlook those things, then this book is a fun and fast and features some characters who are worth following into a second book.