After the explosive Devil’s Workshop I was quite excited to return to the adventures of Inspector Walter Day and his sidekick, Nevil Hammersmith. While I did enjoy The Harvest Man, it did not have the same suspenseful momentum as the previous book. That said, The Harvest Man ends on a high note, setting the stage perfectly for the next book in the series. I can only imagine that there will be many developments in this mystery series; it has gone in a direction I did not expect.
The Harvest Man picks up shortly after the events in The Devil’s Workshop. Day has returned to the job, but he’s on desk duty. Due to his reckless behaviour Nevil has been let go from the Yard, but he is determined to prove that Jack the Ripper is still at large and catch the man at any cost.
While Day is riding a desk, there’s another serial murderer at large: the Harvest Man. The Harvest Man enters a couple’s home, lies in wait, and then sets to work trying to unveil the “true” identity of his mother and father, only to be disappointed each time.
A killer had escaped from prison with three other men and had used the ensuing confusion to evade police. He was still at large. He had no known name, and his records had been lost, but he had been called the Harvest Man by other inmates. The Harvest Man broke into people’s homes while they were out during the day and hid in their attics, waiting until the household was asleep before emerging. He somehow made them groggy and unable to react while he methodically cut away their faces, a piece at a time (p. 39).
The murderer’s attempts to find his family are grotesque, graphic and creepy and because readers are given the Harvest Man’s perspective, you understand his motivations for murder. While understanding the motivations does not work to garner sympathy for the murderer, it does serve to make for the crimes to be understandable and all the more disturbing.
What is done very well in The Harvest Man, as well as the previous books in the series, is the human element to the murder. Not only do readers encounter rich primary characters with Day and Hammersmith, but they also get to see into the minds of the murderers and their victims. At times, it’s disturbing to be in the mind of the victim, yet it adds a layer of suspense and drama that makes for a strong mystery read.
While the villains are drawn very well in The Harvest Man, Grecian does not neglect his primary characters. Readers are taken into the struggles of both Day and Hammersmith. Day is a new father and he’s also the survivor of a brutal attack from the Ripper; it’s certainly playing havoc with his behaviour. Likewise, Hammersmith is struggling with the fact that he’s no longer a copper and trying to figure out what’s next for him as he’ll eventually have to find some sort of income. It’s these characters of Day and Hammersmith that keep me coming back. Both Day and Hammersmith are so ordinary. They’re not really super sleuths, and the practicality of their skills just makes them both very strong main characters to read about. Personally, I continue to feel compelled to learn more about their lives and to see their interactions with other characters.
While I still enjoyed The Harvest Man, I do have to admit that I wasn’t as invested in this installment as I was the previous one. The Devil’s Workshop was so suspenseful, I couldn’t put it down; with The Harvest Man, I wasn’t nearly as engrossed. Yet, The Harvest Man does serve an important purpose in the series: it sets the stage. Day and Hammersmith are at a crossroads in their careers and that does subdue the plot in The Harvest Man. But by the end of the novel, readers are thrown for a loop and taken in a direction that I wasn’t expecting. Both Day and Hammersmith are propelled forward and I can’t wait to see how that unravels in the next book in the series.
The Harvest Man is a solid addition to Grecian’s The Murder Squad Series. Grecian continues to build on his very human characters of Day and Hammersmith, while offering readers a spine tingling mystery. While not as suspenseful as the previous book, The Harvest Man sets the stage for future books in the series in an effective and compelling manner.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.
While Louise Penny does not write historical mysteries, her contemporary Inspector Gamache series will likely appeal to Grecian’s readers for her flawed and human characters. Like Grecian, Penny tends to include the perspective of the criminal and his victim, offering a richer, more realistic portrait of the crime and it’s repercussions. Start with book one in the series, Still Life.
For more similar reads, check out my review of The Devil’s Workshop.