Scotland Yard inspector Walter Day, first introduced in Grecian’s The Yard (2012), returns to help solve a murder or two in the Black Country of the Midlands.
The landscape is grimy, muddy and slag-strewn—in other words, a perfect climate for murder—but other mysterious goings-on also haunt the village of Blackhampton, especially a plaguelike illness affecting hundreds of townspeople. Day had originally been called in from London along with his assistant, Nevil Hammersmith, to investigate the disappearance of a couple, Sutton and Hester Price, and their young son, Oliver. The Prices leave three more children behind—Peter, Anna and Virginia—all of them precocious and creepy. It turns out one of the missing Prices and the community disease are related when Day discovers Oliver’s body at the bottom of a well from which folks have been drawing their drinking water. Almost immediately after Day removes the body, Sutton returns, reclaiming the three remaining children. Throughout the elaboration of these mysteries, other puzzles emerge, like the appearance in Blackhampton of Campbell, a giant of a man whose cover is that he’s a bird-watcher. We also meet, somewhat elliptically, a menacing figure called simply The American, whose face had been horribly mutilated by Campbell at Andersonville Prison in 1865; 25 years later, he’s still seeking revenge. And Campbell, it turns out, had been enamored years earlier with Hester Price, so Sutton Price’s sudden reappearance leads to fighting that emerges from jealousy.
Grecian packs in almost more plot than a body can stand, but he presents with fine precision the gray and gritty atmosphere of late-Victorian England.