The Black Country
A Scotland Yard Murder Squad Mystery by Alex Grecian
Review: When three members of a family go missing from a coal mining town in the British Midlands, Detective Inspector Walter Day and Sergeant Nevil Hammersmith of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad are sent to lend a hand in finding them, in The Black Country, the second mystery in this series by Alex Grecian.
Coal miner Sutton Price, his second wife Hester, and their toddler child Oliver unexpectedly vanished from their home, leaving three other young children from Price's first marriage to manage on their own. The local constable, who believes the missing Prices to be dead, has searched the village for their bodies without success. But, as he admits to Day and Hammersmith, with the vast number of played out coal tunnels that criss-cross the area, it's more than likely their bodies may never be found. Meanwhile, a large number of people living in the village have taken ill, all coming down with a mysterious ailment at just about the same time as the Price family disappeared. Some believe it can't be a coincidence, that a dark force has descended upon the town. Day and Hammersmith, however, are convinced that a very real, very human, person is responsible for all that has happened.
The Black Country is, at least at first, a suitably atmospheric novel of suspense, one that does a fine job of setting the stage for Day and Hammersmith's investigation. And for about half of the book, maybe more, it's hard not to get drawn into the credibly developed mystery of what happened to Price and his family. But then the story tends to lose its way. Part of the problem is that so many plot points are advanced only to be later tossed aside, infrequently referenced if they are mentioned again at all. They are not so much loose ends as — in retrospect — apparently irrelevant tangents that were introduced with no obvious purpose than to simply be. (One also might include as a problem the two historical "interludes", which provide a lengthy backstory to yet another subplot that probably could have been edited out with little loss of continuity.) Another part of the problem here is that all concept of time and place, among the strong points in the early chapters of the book, seems to be conveniently and abruptly abandoned. To be sure, a lot happens in the final chapters over a very short period of time, and all in the midst of a raging snowstorm. But the atmospheric suspense that was so carefully crafted early on gives way to overly dramatic, and somewhat incongruous, screenplay-style action at the end.
Acknowledgment: Penguin Group provided a copy of The Black Country for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in The Black Country: Midlands, England
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The Black Country by Alex Grecian — A Scotland Yard Murder Squad Mystery
Publication Date: May 2013
List Price: $26.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
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