Friday, September 15, 2017

Book Review: 'The Harvest Man' by Alex Grecian

Alex Grecian's fourth Scotland Yard Murder Squad thriller is as suspenseful and absorbing as its predecessors. You would do well to read the books in order, as each picks up where the previous one leaves off. In "The Harvest Man," Detective Inspector Walter Day once again faces the malevolent Jack the Ripper, who is too clever to be caught by the plodding detectives on his trail. In addition, Day and his colleagues (assisted unofficially by former sergeant Nevil Hammersmith) are trying to apprehend the Harvest Man, a diminutive and deranged man whose psychosis harks back to a tormented childhood.

This powerful work of historical fiction takes place in London in 1890. Day and Hammersmith are still nursing the terrible wounds inflicted on them in "The Devil's Workshop." Still, neither is willing to give up doing what he loves best--bringing killers to justice. Grecian gives his heroes formidable challenges in this outing, and adds an extra dimension by showing how their personal lives have changed. Day is the father of twins, his in-laws have moved in and are trying to control his life, and he is becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol to get through the day. Meanwhile, Nevil has been dismissed from the force and appears more slovenly than ever. Other familiar figures are the forensic specialist, Dr. Kingsley; his talented daughter, Fiona; and Claire, Walter's lovely wife and the mother of their adorable baby daughters.

The author never misses a beat, as he expertly juggles a host of plots and subplots as well as a large cast of characters--villains, innocent victims, witnesses, law enforcement officials, and an underworld figure who provides information about the brutal slaying of three ladies of the night. There is so much going on here that this novel could have easily descended into chaos. Fortunately, Grecian's measured, lucid, and evocative prose; crisp dialogue; and impressive ability to keep his well-constructed story on track mesmerize us and draw us along quickly. We empathize with two youngsters left orphaned by a murderous fiend, and feel sympathy for the lovelorn Fiona, whose admiration for Nevil is unrequited. Furthermore, we wonder whether Claire and Walter can stand up to her overbearing parents, and fret about poor Nevil, who is quickly going through his meager savings.

There is a great deal of gore, counterbalanced by delightfully humorous passages. Grecian uses irony to good effect by inserting the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses" throughout the narrative, which serve as a commentary and counterpoint to the violent proceedings. "The Harvest Man" is a tour-de-force, and may be Grecian's best installment yet in a series that has become a must-read for fans of police procedurals set in Victorian England.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right

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