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3.4 out of 5 stars54
3.4 out of 5 stars
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My main complaint of Alex Grecian's début novel, "The Yard", was that whilst being reasonably well written, it was poorly researched and consequently unrealistic and anachronistic in its detail. I was hoping that for his follow-on novel, "The Black Country", the author would have learned some lessons and done a bit more preparation by way of background research. Sadly, he has not. In fact, if anything, he has done nothing but the bare minimum of research into the eponymous industrial heart-land of Victorian England for this second volume of his "Murder Squad" series. As far as the book's setting goes, the Black Country of this author's imagination is a very odd place indeed; it appears to be a strange amalgam of locations and centuries, having more in common with Bram Stoker's Transylvania (albeit mercifully free of vampires) than anything remotely English. The idea of English inn-keepers drugging their guests in order to preserve them from encounters with the local bogey-man, Rawhead and Bloody Bones, or even keeping a rifle (sic) behind the bar is odd enough, but the suggestion that Black Country pubs at the start of the twentieth century were surrounded by impenetrable wolf-infested forest, served beer in steins or offered their guests nothing to eat but groaty dick, just shows how ignorant of reality the author is. Other glaring errors arise from the author's apparent ignorance of the history and nature of parish churches, priest holes, the English telegram system, the operation and form of Black Country mines, the ways in which mining subsidence manifests, the nature of Victorian water supply (which certainly never involved open wells some 200-foot deep), or that the incubation period of typhoid is more like 7 days than 7 hours, as well as -- perhaps most saliently, given the book's opening premise -- the fact that Scotland Yard are not at the disposal of police forces around the country. It would appear that Alex Grecian has transferred the role of the FBI to the Yard, in his mind, exactly as he has transferred the predilection for gun-toting of American law enforcement officers, as well as sections of the general public onto their English equivalents. And as for side-stepping the issue of Black Country dialect...

Glaring as the errors are in this book, things could nevertheless have been rescued by a strong and well-conveyed story arc. Unfortunately, the author doesn't seem to have one. Instead, we have a risible attempt at story-telling, with a needlessly convoluted plot, which alternates between the ridiculous and the silly, overlain with an unpleasant patina of gratuitous goriness. There are also the occasional side excursions into the just plain daft and pointless -- including an entire episode involving the rescue of an abandoned nestling Magpie, although quite what that is doing wallowing in a snow drift the middle of the night in March, a good six weeks before the normal breeding season, is never explained. (But then neither does its rescue serve any narrative purpose, so maybe that's all right?)

There are times too when even the author seems to have lost his way in the overly complex plot -- Inspector Day spends large amounts of the book fretting that he is away from London at a time when his wife is heavily pregnant and may need him at her bedside at any moment, apparently having forgotten that he has just that afternoon packed her off on a train to her sister's in Manchester. Sergeant Hammersmith (about as unlikely a Welsh name as it possible to devise) is even more ridiculously portrayed in this book than in the earlier volume too.

All in all, I find it hard to find anything to recommend here. The book has every appearance of being the result of a publisher hounding an author to deliver to a pre-determined and contracted timetable without regard for quality. To be frank, it really needs to be taken away by a development editor, pulled apart and reworked into a consistent and coherent story. As it stands, it tries to deliver three or four interlocking stories in one, and as a result delivers none in any satisfactory way. This does not bode well for the third of the series, "The Devil's Workshop".
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on 12 July 2014
Strange story, not terribly well put together. I really liked the first book in the series but this one I'm afraid leaves you out in the cold (no pun intended).
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on 25 May 2014
In comparison to London, Grecian paints the small mining village as about as superstitious and ‘backward’ as you could imagine. A child and his parents are gone, feared dead yet many of the people in the village, including adults, fear the murders, if there have been any, were carried out by ‘Rawhead’ a fictional monster. It’s such a strange concept but perhaps more believable than I first though, possibly stemming from a human desire to avoid having to live up to the fact that people kill other people, especially children.

In The Yard plenty of people died but in The Black Country there are murders, near murders and accidental deaths all over the place. Once again I found myself being drawn in twenty different directions by many different characters and it’s the pace of the novel that pushes you through the mass of characters, not allowing you to dwell to heavily on any single one. I had issue with so many different intertwined murders and so many different murderers, too much was going on at times to be honest, but I do like the way Grecian writes – perhaps I just wish he kept it a little simpler.

I didn’t work out exactly what had happened in advance but some of it did become clear a little too early for my liking. Even from the first few pages I had a thought that X might have been the killer and it turned out to be true in part but then there were so many different killers it was a little like when will it all end? The grey eyed American and his story seemed like one character too far at times!

I’m being unkind though as I really did enjoy the novel and I’m already anticipating the next in the series. Grecian doesn’t shy away from gore and his creation of the suspicious, uncooperative village community is a such a clever place to put a police investigation. I’m not deterred, I just hope that maybe there’s less going off in different directions next time!
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on 24 December 2013
Possibly the worst book I have ever read. Don't waste your time reading it. Where to start? The Black Country was not Transylvania and the author has lifted the plot from "The suspicions of Mr Whicher"
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on 1 January 2014
This looked so promising, but turned out to be a big disappointment. Stanwegian has said just about everything that can be said about getting facts right but I just had to mention a couple of things myself which are deeply irritating to the reader.
1) Wolves were hunted to extinction by about the fourteenth century in Britain;
2) The word "okay", whilst existing in the US from the mid nineteenth century, didn't come into popular use in Britain until about a hundred years later. Grecian completely fails to create the formality with which even ordinary people spoke in the 1890s thereby undermining any creation of authenticity in his characters;
3) Women did not introduce themselves by their first names at this time as the school teacher did;
4) English people do not "wash up" anything but dishes, certainly not themselves;
5) Why was nobody in the least bit concerned about the disappearance of Grimes? His murder went completely unremarked.
6) There is very little attempt at distinguishing the characters of the two policemen except that the Sergeant is untidy.

Sorry, that's more than a couple of things! But this is a really annoying book!
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on 23 September 2015
I really like The Yard, yes it did have some cultural and period clangers but it was a good yarn.

Just really puzzled by the Black Country.... it was if the writer had set it in some weird Transylvania/Wild West mash up with rifles behind the bar and wolves in the forest.

Characters behaved irrationally, forget what they said a few hours earlier or just plain disappeared without anyone giving them a second thought.

Shame because I like the style and inside there was a good story trying to get out but was drawn out , repetitive and over complicated with more red herrings than you could shake a stick at and a totally implausible ending.

I didn't hate it or even dislike it, the flash backs were well done and it did rollick along but was a disappointment compared to The Yard. I do dislike my reading to be jarred by such avoidable howlers such as wolves running around a Victorian forest (no pun intended).
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on 25 March 2014
I read the first Alex Grecian book The Yard and really enjoyed it so when I saw this book advertised I bought it straight away. I did read comments 5stars and downwards but found it got quite a few mixed reviews so I thought I'd try it for myself and to be quite blunt I found it far fetched and quite boring compared to his last book, I would prefer it in future if the setting of the books could be set in London as the first book was and deal with cases local to the characters. I would however read another of AJ Grecian's books as I think the characters and settings of 1886 or there about was enjoyable. Hope the next book is better.
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on 2 April 2014
Looking for a fantasy story, which could have set on Mars in an indeterminate century, with people that speak more or less like 21st century Americans, written by someone better known for his comics, with a reasonably constructed plot that ultimately fails to satisfy because of some rather significant loose ends? Go no further.

Expecting (perhaps misled by the blurbs on the cover) a thriller set in the Black Country in the 19th century with a convincing atmosphere possibly based on some research? Leave well alone.

All the rest has been said by the other one-star reviewers (poor research, use, in dialogue of 20th/21st-century vocabulary, wolves in England in the 19th century, proliferation of firearms, poor grasp of mining/mining subsidence, etc. etc,)
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on 20 September 2015
A very disappointing book, considering how much I enjoyed The Yard. It was obvious the author knew very little about the Potteries or the Stoke area. It felt very much like a book that had been written for the American West and then changed location to suit a publisher's need for a book. Shame because I did enjoy this author's first book very much.
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on 9 April 2015
Some of the criticism on here about a lack of background research is just, but it did not spoil my enjoyment of this fast-paced thriller. It will never win any literary prizes, but if you are looking for an easy, entertaining holiday read with plenty of action and some seriously spooky moments then give this a try.
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