When I read Alex Grecian's debut novel, The Yard, last year (my review) I immediately added him to my 'must read' list.
His second book The Black Country brings back the investigators from Scotland Yard's Murder Squad.
Grecian starts off the book with a quick little 'gotcha' scene. A little girl climbing a tree finds something of great interest in a bird's nest - what she thinks is a lovely little blue egg - but it's an blue eye....
1899. Detective Day and Sergeant Hammersmith are sent to the small mining town of Blackhampton in the British Midlands. Two of the town's residents and their young son have vanished and the local constable is in over his head.
But what Day and Hammersmith find is not a town overly worried about the loss of three of their residents, but an insular mining town full of superstitions, suspicions and secrets. No one is willing to talk to the detectives, instead they seem bent on stopping the investigation in its tracks. A stranger who's only been in town for two weeks with his own agenda is more welcomed than Day and Hammersmith.
The Black Country is a busy book - the town is falling into the tunnels beneath, the townsfolk are falling sick from a mysterious malady, the children of the town are afraid of a boogeyman they've named "Raw Head, Bloody Bones", the weather is just as determined as the murderer to kill off a few more folks and the mysterious stranger has another mysterious stranger after him. A lot of plot? Oh, for sure - but I loved it!
What drew me to the first book has again captured me in The Black Country. I love the time period, but I especially enjoy these characters. Day's quiet, calm intelligence shines through, Hammersmith's stubborn indefatigability, the clear and gentle soul of the giant Henry and the early forensic and medical pronouncements of Dr. Kingsley.
Grecian again employs his 'interlude' technique, telling the story of the mysterious stranger in bits and pieces and slowly tying him to the mystery in Blackhampton. As with the first book, the identity of the killer is known before the end of the book. But, for this reader, it didn't detract from my enjoyment at all.
Grecian continues to flesh out his character's personal lives - I know there's more to come and will be eagerly awaiting the third in this series. Read an excerpt of The Black Country.
I had a quick listen to who narrated the audio version of this book and may actually choose to listen to the next installment. Toby Leonard Moore has an amazingly rich, resonant voice with a wonderful set of accents. His pacing was slow and deliberate, catching the mores and manners of the time period. Listen to an excerpt.
You can find Alex Grecian on Facebook and on Twitter.