It’s 1889, the year after Jack the Ripper terrorized the East End, but London is still awash with murders—96 bodies have been retrieved from the Thames in one month, most with their throats slit—and the detectives of Scotland Yard demonstrate their usual mixture of savvy and incompetence.
The first victim the Yard has to contend with is Christian Little, whose mutilated body is found inside a trunk at Euston Square Station, a murder not just horrifying, but also embarrassing because Little is a detective inspector at Scotland Yard. Put in charge of the case is Walter Day, recently brought in from Devon and hence innocent of the previous year’s failures. In fact, the Yard’s new Murder Squad, an elite group of detectives of which Little had been a member, had been assembled in response to the failure of the Metropolitan Police to catch “Saucy Jack.” Assisting Day is Dr. Bernard Kingsley, a surgeon at University College Hospital and incipient forensic pathologist. Heading the Murder Squad is Col. Sir Edward Bradford, a gruff no-nonsense administrator with good instincts about the competence of police officers. Grecian creates a large and eccentric cast of characters, including a detective inspector who can’t stop making jokes (usually bad puns), a mentally disturbed dancing man, a brutal tailor (whose telltale shears are used in untoward ways), the seductive wife of a doctor, and two coldblooded prostitutes, now perpetrators of crime rather than victims. But the murderer keeps making fools of the Murder Squad by bumping off more detectives.
Although the whodunit aspect of the novel is a bit weak, Grecian successfully re-creates the dark atmosphere of late Victorian London.