You Don’t Know Tom Harper, Do you?

But you will. Well, I hope you will, once Gods of Gold is published (end of August in the UK). Anyone coming in after Richard Nottingham has big shoes to fill. But almost 160 years after Richard, perhaps Inspector Tom Harper is the man to do it.

Although he’s the central character in the new series, he wasn’t the first one to leap out at me fully-formed. That was his fiancée, Annabelle Atkinson, a widow of about 30 who runs the Victoria pub at the bottom of Roundhay Road in Leeds. She’d been in a short story I wrote, Annabelle Atkinson and Mr Grimshaw and she began to haunt me. But she wasn’t yet the Annabelle of the book. There was still a way to go.

And she had more to tell me.

It clicked into place when I realised she ran the Victoria. It’s a pub that really existed until a few years ago, and the building is still standing. The woman who really ran it was a distant relative – at least around 1920. My father, who lived in Hunslet, would spend his summers there, as it had a big garden, and a piano where he could practice to his heart’s content. She also owned a few bakeries in the area and did a little moneylending; a consummate businesswoman, and a strong, independent woman who’d started out as a servant in the pub, married the owner for love, then run the business herself after she died.

I had her. That was a beginning.

After that, I happened to read about the Leeds Gas Strike of 1890. It was a blatant attempt by the Gas Committee of Leeds Council to save money by basically firing workers then hiring fewer of them back at a lower wage and under terms that largely deprived them of their rights, a move that resonates so much with what’s happening everywhere today.

The difference is that the strikers won. The Gas Committee had to capitulate. Hard to imagine that happening these days. Who wouldn’t want to write about a situation like that?

And that was where Tom Harper walked in. He had to be somewhat political, and on the left end of the spectrum. So he’d be a working class lad. And he needed a detective. From there, he simply came together. He’d grown up in the Leylands, just north of the town centre, before it became a Jewish area. He’d lived in a back-to-back house, left school when he was nine to work rolling barrels at Brunswick Brewery. But he wanted to be a policeman. He’d educated himself by borrowing books from the public library and finally, when he was 19, he’d joined Leeds Police. He’d spent six years on the beat, covering the courts and yards between Briggate and Lands Lane. His parents had died, his sisters were happily married, and he lived in lodgings just off Chapeltown Road.

And there was Tom. Of course, he couldn’t do everything alone, but there’s more to come in the book, of course. And he still had to meet Annabelle and the two of them had to become close…you’ll have to read Gods of Gold to discover all that, though.

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