Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Black Country by Alex Grecian (A Scottland Yard Murder Squad mystery)

Alex Grecian, the author of the Scotland Yard Murder Squad mystery series, also writes a graphic novel series called Proof, the first volume of which I just received from the hubby as a Valentine's Day gift.

Though I haven't read it yet, a quick page-huff (what is it about the tantalizing smell of a new book? Or an old one, for that matter? Any fellow book-huffers out there?) and glance through indicates the graphic novel series, like the first two Grecian mystery novels, could easily be classified as horror as well.

And though I do not consider myself a fan of horror, either books or films (though I do enjoy the occasional ghost or Faustian devil story), I am now more a fan of Alex Grecian than ever. And I think it's due to the depth added to Grecian's stories by integrating horror.

Which brings me to the surprise of The Black Country, Grecian's second installment in the Scottland Yard Murder Squad series. I confess it took me a while to read this book because the premise didn't pique my interest. Inspector Water Day and Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith are sent to a rural coal mining town when a prominent family disappears.

I should have known better than to doubt Grecian. From soot-covered blankets of snow to grim-faced workers who trudge silently to their shifts, there is a sinister undercurrent that imbues every page of this book. Adding to that is the fact that many of the village homes are literally sinking into the hollowed-out ground beneath them. But of course, the owners have nowhere else to go. And then there's there's the creepy children.

In a previous post on this series's first installment, I rhapsodized about the best nightmare scene I had ever read (a passage I read aloud over the phone to a friend of mine that actually produces his own horror hosting show and is a Rondo Award winning horror blogger; he loved it). The opening vignette in this book is of the same caliber, a bar Grecian does not fail to meet during the rest of the story.

As Day and Hammersmith race against the clock and battle the small-town circling of the wagons of the residents, the reader is constantly put off balance by vignettes that reveal a killer, though not necessarily the same killer Scottland Yard is searching for.

To say more without spoilers would be difficult, so I will only add the one minor criticism I have, which is that Grecian does tend to rely quite a bit on dialogue for character development. That's not a bad thing in and of itself -- it's a great tool, especially when one is as good as he is at giving characters different voices as he is -- but I think he forgets sometimes that novel readers don't have a visual cue for physical action the way a graphic novel reader does. At times, the extended dialogue felt a bit stilted and broke the narrative flow.

Not nearly enough, however, to take away from the book as a whole. I already own the third installment in the series and can't wait to begin it...after I read Proof, of course.

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