I received my copy from Penguin through Nudge.
The year is 1890 and three people have gone missing from Blackhampton, a miner’s village in the Midlands. Inspector Walter Day and Sergeant Hammersmith from London’s Crime Squad are sent to the remote village to investigate the disappearances and are given only two days to solve the mystery.
Once the two investigators arrive in Blackhampton they find a closed and rather hostile community. The local policeman may have asked for their assistance but even he seems reluctant to share information or offer real assistance.
As Day and Hammersmith start their search for the missing adults and their young son they are amazed that even the child’s siblings seem uncurious about what has happened and are determined not to tell them anything useful.
And while Day and his companion are unaware of it, the missing locals are not the only problem they are facing. There are other dangers out and about. There is the mysterious guest sharing the guesthouse they’re staying in as well as somebody hiding in the woods who seems to have an agenda of his own.
As the spring weather reverts to snow storms, even the village itself seems to conspire against our investigators as it subsides deeper and deeper into the mine shafts underneath it. The odds are stacked against Day and Hammersmith and solving the mysteries may be the least of their problems as staying alive suddenly becomes an issue.
The Black Country is a very appropriate title for this book. Not only does Blackhampton sound like a dark place, it is literally dark due to the mining activity there and the smokestacks that are constantly spewing smoke. But there is more; the locals are hostile, uncooperative, superstitious, and appear to be going out of their way to make the investigation as difficult as possible. In fact, the whole story, including the solution to the various mysteries, is dark. There is some relief to all the darkness in the form of the interactions between Day and Hammersmith, a short visit from Day’s wife and the arrival of Dr. Kingsley and his kind but slow-witted assistant, but the overall tone of this story is as gloomy as the title suggests.
That is not to say this isn’t a good book. This is in fact a very well plotted mystery and a fascinating read. I’m very impressed with the way in which Alex Grecian managed to tie three, apparently completely unrelated, story threads together in what was a gripping finale. I am fascinated with the time in which these books are set. The police force in London has been reformed after the debacle that was the investigation into Jack the Ripper, resulting in the new Murder Squad which Day and Hammersmith are part of. Forensic science is slowly emerging as Dr. Kingsley uses new and unconventional techniques to find answers to some of the questions the investigation gives rise to. Combined with an intriguing story, all these aspects serve to give the reader a book that is almost impossible to put down.
This is a book that will be appreciated by any reader who enjoys a good mystery, a fascinating historical novel, a true page-turner or all of the aforementioned.