It's tough to be a Scotland Yard detective in 1889. Twelve inspectors are supposed to keep on top of a caseload that tops 96 murders a month. Jack the Ripper has vanished into the fog of White Chapel, leaving the Yard looking weak and ineffective. Then the dismembered body of Inspector Christian Little shows up in a suitcase at a train station in graphic novelist Alex Grecian's first print mystery, “The Yard.”
New Scotland Yard Inspector Walter Day is assigned to the case, while the rumpled Constable Nevil Hammersmith investigates the death of a five-year-old sweep, whose body was found callously shoved up a chimney. Meanwhile, coroner Dr. Bernard Kingsley, a proto-forensic pathologist, conducts investigations into “finger marks.”
Kingsley, an author's note reveals, was based on a historical figure, as was Day and his new boss, Col. Sir Edward Bradford. (Without Bradford, there may not have been any buddy-cop movies: He was the first to have policemen work in pairs.) Day is bland, but well-meaning, but the other characters carry the novel.
Meanwhile, what really keeps the pages turning is the fate of another boy, who has been “adopted” by the killer. “The Yard” isn't really a whodunit: The murderer's identity is revealed fairly early on, always a risky move. Instead, it's an atmospheric thriller, where the characters take readers on a tour of the workhouses, alleys, and pubs that make up the teeming, filthy underside of 1880s London, where the police arrest 60,000 people a year but can't afford to buy real tea. Grecian argues that the Ripper forced the police to accept a different kind of murderer: a sociopath not moved by lust, anger, or greed or any motive they build a case around, and their resulting scramble to keep up.
While Grecian is gruesomely accurate when it comes to performing an autopsy, the dialogue is sloppy, clunking with anachronisms such as victims needing “closure” and phrases like “Have a nice day” and “I am okay.” Detectives who are demoralized on one page are sure they're going to catch the killer by nightfall on the next. Grecian's got the smog and the stench of late-Victorian London. Hopefully, in the next book, he'll get the lingo.
If you want historical accuracy and excellent research, grab the Summerscale. If you'd like a fast-moving potboiler and don't need to look too closely at the details, Grecian's your man.