Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Devil's Workshop by Alex Grecian (A Scotland Yard Murder Squad mystery)

Every so often, an installment in an ongoing series will engross me so thoroughly it is all I can do not to stand up after closing the back cover and give the author a standing ovation.

The Devil's Workshop, the third installment of Alex Grecian's Socttland Yard's Murder Squad series, is one of those books.

Grecian succeeds on a dazzling array of levels in this installment: dialogue, setting, plot, pacing; basically, writing. 

He flicks between multiple points of view and settings, changing the narrative voice accordingly, without ever allowing the page-turning, suspense-filled plot to flag. All of the events in the book, remarkably, basically take place over the course of a little over a day.

So the plot and pacing are as good a place to being as any in describing what made this such a wonderful read.

Briefly, this installment finds Detective Walter Day and his loyal partner Nevil Hammersmith being woken in the wee small hours of the morning to find several murderers who have been broken out of a prison. (The prison break itself, by the way, is worth the cost of the admission.)

One of the escaped prisoners is the same serial killer from the first novel in the series, one of Grecian's most skin-crawling villains. The other is The Harvest Man, who is just as chills-inducing and disquieting, the kind of character that whispers in your mind long after you've stopped reading for the night.

Normally, I roll my eyes when authors bring back old antagonists, but in this case Grecian has plausibly, and engrossingly, brought back both. It makes sense both in terms of this particular installment in the series and in terms of the larger, overall series plot arc.

Adding to the plot is the existence of a shadow society that kidnaps and tortures men who they believe have gotten away with murder. One of their victims is Saucy Jack himself, which is why, of course, he seems to have inexplicably disappeared.

On the character development side, Day is nervous about an upcoming major life event and his old mentor returns to help hunt down prisoners.

That's a lot of plot, characters and settings (more on the settings in a bit). Yet Grecian writes so efficiently that the story does not become cluttered with characters and side plots.
No dialogue is wasted; it all furthers the plot or sheds insight into a character. Descriptions are just enough to allow the reader's imagination to fill in the blanks, but are deep enough to get the reader started.

The settings are also rich and varied. They include a tiny street tea vendor's stand, a cozy family home, a desolate prison on the outskirts of London and finally the fiendish twists and turns of underground London, with its rivers, catacombs and abandoned, ancient cellars and all.

Finally, once again I am pleasantly surprised by Grecian's Jack the Ripper. So much has been written about Jack the Ripper, both in nonfiction and fiction, I can't help but approach most series centering around Saucy Jack with a bit of trepidation. As a true crime fan, I've read enough about him to spoil most Ripper pastiches, though I don't ever blame a writer for mining such a rich patch of criminal history.

Grecian's Ripper succeeds because first, it evident that Grecian has done his homework, researching both the Ripper and what his mental illness may have been. So although there is, of course, gory violence that gives one goose bumps and, perhaps, a bit of nausea, it is never gratuitous. It is the logical action based on Jack's own twisted internal logic, and that lends it credibility.

Horror is not a genre I generally read, but every time I read a Scottland Yard's Murder Squad installment I am grateful for Grecian's background in that genre. I read this around Halloween for my scary book and was not disappointed in the least.

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