Friday 3 July 2015

"Coppers" ... London vs. New York

THE HARVEST MAN by Alex Grecian.   

This is the fourth installment in the “Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad” series and while there have been a few minor bumps along the way I’ve enjoyed each of the books.  “The Harvest Man” is no exception.

The transition from the ending of the last book to the start of this one is seamless.  Mr. Grecian does not miss a beat.  The bodies of dead prostitutes are once more turning up so suspicions are that Saucy Jack is up to his old ways again.  Walter Day is recovering from his wounds while his in-laws are still making his home life miserable.

Nevil Hammersmith has been relieved of his official duties but does not let that slow him down on his unrelenting determination to apprehend The Ripper.  The “Harvest Man” (named after a reclusive attic dwelling spider) is still on the loose but this time he has left some witnesses behind. 

Where this book differs slightly from the previous three is that Walter and Nevil are tracking separate killers.  Nevil is on his personal quest to find Jack while Walter, still being part of “The Yard”, concentrates on the official case involving the Harvest Man.  Despite the seemingly diverging plot line the book works.  There is enough overlap that neither they nor the reader loses track of each of them.

Set in the late 1800’s this book, as were the others, is filled with colorful references to London and both its high and lower society.  True to form Mr. Grecian once again caused a few grimaces with his blood, guts and gore descriptions of the victims of both the killers at large.  If you are a reader that prefers “cozy mysteries” you might want to give this series a pass – although you would be missing out on some wonderful historical thrillers.

One aspect of these books that I particularly enjoy is the fact that Mr. Grecian does not use the female characters as window dressing.  Do they play a major role in the meat of the story?  No.  However both Claire Day and Fiona Kingsley are pretty tough ladies with minds of their own considering it’s the 19th century.  Dr. Kingsley is also becoming a favorite character of mine because of his antiquated CSI techniques, which are of course quite revolutionary for his time.  He draws a fun contrast between “that was then” when the reader is aware of the “this is now”.  It adds the much-appreciated lightness to an otherwise pretty gruesome tale.

This series shows no signs of slowing down and since this one ends on very much of a cliff hanger I hope I don’t have to wait too long for the next book to be released.  I also just noticed that there is a prequel to the “Murder Squad” books called “The Blue Girl” – how did that one slip by me? – so I’ll definitely be having a look at that soon.

I have been listening to this series on audio book and would be remiss not give kudos to the narrator, John Curless.  I am certain he adds greatly to my enjoyment of these books in the way he brings the characters to life.  His accents are excellent and even the minor background players have major personalities of their own thanks to Mr. Curless.  Great reading!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his author page on Amazon)

Alex Grecian is the national bestselling author of the 'Scotland Yard Murder Squad' novels, including THE YARD, THE BLACK COUNTRY, THE DEVIL'S WORKSHOP, and THE HARVEST MAN. He also co-created the long-running and critically acclaimed graphic novel series PROOF, which NPR named one of the best books of 2009. He has written an original 'Murder Squad' e-book, THE BLUE GIRL, and an original graphic novel, SEVEN SONS, as well as a multitude of short stories, both comics and prose, for various anthologies. He lives in the Midwest with his wife and son. And a cat. And a tarantula. He is working on the fifth novel of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad.

Trivia … Why Scotland Yard?

The name Scotland Yard comes from its very earliest days, soon after the establishment of the police force in London in 1829. The first Metropolitan Police station was opened on 6 October 1829 in a street called Great Scotland Yard and was at the rear of 4 Whitehall Place which served as the office of the two newly appointed police commissioners.

The origin of the name Scotland Yard (both Great and Little) is unknown, but may be named after a former landowner or a connection with the Kings of Scotland. The name was in use by the 17th century.

By 1830, The Times newspaper was referring to the police at 'Scotland Yard', and it being the 'home station' of the police and that of the Chief Police Officer, and it is clear from other sources of the time that almost from its earliest days the headquarters was known as Scotland Yard.

SECOND STREET STATION by Lawrence H. Levy.  When she was 12 years old Mary Handley witnessed a killer leaving the scene of a crime.  The killer did not worry too much thinking Mary would scream at the sight of the body and who would believe the tale of a hysterical 12-year-old.  He underestimated Mary.  She was not a typical then and, considering it was the late 1800’s, did not grow into a typical young woman.  Mary was smart, clever, well read and due to a very unfeminine (for the times) interest in science – had a sharp eye for details.

Unheard of, but Mary wanted to become a detective.

When Charles Goodrich, not only Thomas Edison’s accountant but also the fiancée of Mary’s dear friend Kate, is shot in his foyer Mary arrives on the scene.  In her usual outspoken, uncensored way announces that the police have overlooked some major crime scene clues and promptly points them out.  This brings her to the attention of Police Chief Campbell.  He is impressed with Mary’s keen eye and suggests she would be a wonderful “copper” – if only women were allowed on the force.

In an unusual turn of events, with the suffragette movement demanding rights for women – pressuring city officials to make it happen and two Police Commissioners looking to discredit Chief Campbell in any way possible, Mary finds herself in her dream job.  Yes it’s temporary and yes it’s unorthodox and a little fishy, but she intends to make the most of this opportunity and find the bad guy.

This is a charming work of historical fiction and Mary’s role in the book is very entertaining.  Mary gives us an inside look at what it was like to be an intelligent woman in an era and a society where smart women were frowned upon; often encouraged to hide their light under a bushel.  Being historical fiction allows for some interesting “true life” characters to be included so I learned quite a bit more than I knew before about Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, J.P. Morgan and Charles and John Pemberton (of Coca Cola fame).

Mr. Levy has researched the time period well and writes vivid descriptions of late 1880’s Brooklyn.  As interesting as those descriptions were I found they occasionally left me waiting in the wings for the story to resume.  I can forgive him that because, having written extensively for various television shows, his dialogue in this book is wonderful … not necessarily always true to the time period (some modern terms sneak in) … but that didn’t take anything away from the story.

I know this is the first book of a new series (the following book entitled “Brooklyn on Fire” is being released January 2016) … so much for my resolve not to get involved in yet another series … sigh.  I enjoyed the book enough that I will probably pick up the next one just to see where Mr. Levy takes Mary.  I enjoyed the book enough to make that commitment but any more than that will definitely depend on the next book.

Overall, a good read.

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR (from his website)

LAWRENCE H. LEVY is a highly regarded film and TV writer who is a Writers Guild Award winner and two-time Emmy nominee. He has written for various hit TV shows such as Family Ties, Saved by the Bell,Roseanne, and Seinfeld. Second Street Station is his debut novel.

TRIVIA … Why “coppers”?

When the High Constable of New York City, Jacob Hays retired from service in 1844, permission was granted by the Governor of the state to the Mayor of the City to create a Police Department. A force of approximately 800 men under the first Chief of Police, George W. Matsell, began to patrol the City in July of 1845. They wore badges that had an eight-pointed star (representing the first 8 paid members of the old Watch during Dutch times). The badges had the seal of the City in their center and were made of stamped copper. 

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