My City of Immigrants

In the light of all the intolerance and hatred in the world at the moment, it feels important to me to say this.

 

When I was in my early teens, at the tail end of the 1960s, I used to take the bus into town every Saturday morning for a look around the record and book shops in Leeds. Even clothes, because in those distant days I had an interest in fashion.

It was a trip down Chapeltown Road, through what was a vital, flourishing Afro-Caribbean community, where people from SE Asia were also making their home. Out of the window I’d be intrigued by signs for the Polish Club, the Serbian Club, Ukrainian Club. We’d pass a Sikh Gurdwara that had once been a Congregation Baptist Church, and further down, a synagogue. Going through Sheepscar, I could see all the Irish pubs – the Roscoe, the Victoria, the Pointer, the Regent, and more, all before I reached the city centre and hopped off outside the ABC cinema.

That was one bus ride, in one part of town. It told a story of immigration that wasn’t all recent. It never occurred to me that these people were any less Leeds than me. They were here, they were making their lives, working, raising their children, the same as everyone else.

The first reference to a Jew in Leeds that I’ve seen is from middle of the 18th century. The same for a black, an army drummer boy. By the 1830s there was a small Jewish community here, and by 1840 there was a Jewish cemetery and services were held in a loft on Bridge Street, with a total of 56 Jews identified in the 1841 census.

Certainly by the 1830s there was an Irish community in Leeds, centred on the Bank, the poorest area of town. As was common in England at the time, they were sometimes regarded as less than human, relegated to the very worst part of town. The famines of the 1840s brought more Irish immigrants, many of whom worked at the mills in the area.

                               St Patrick’s Church                                           Victorian court on the Bank

The big Jewish influx came towards the end of the 19th century, fleeing the pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. Understandably, the several thousand who arrived in Leeds settled where there was the safety of other Jews and the common language of Yiddish – in the Leylands, just north of the centre.

                                                 The Leylands around 1900

The early 1900s saw a very tiny group of Chinese in Leeds as well as a few Poles settling here. A few Italians had lived here since the 1880s.

Of course, it didn’t all go smoothly; there were tensions between Irish and English, between English and Jews, which culminated in a riot in 1917, when youths charged into the Leylands, believing none of the Jewish community had volunteered to fight in World War 1, which was very much wrong.

An Indian soldier served with the Leeds Pals during that war, and quite possibly the first Indian Sikh settled here in 1930, with the first Muslim in 1943, with more arriving from the Indian subcontinent in the early 1950s.

By then, of course, the Windrush had docked, and West Indian immigrants had begun to arrive, with some making their homes here, followed by others.

West Indian 1980

West Indian Carnival, Chapeltown Road, 1980

But all of those followed those Poles, Ukrainians and Serbs who come during World War II to fight, then married and settled here.

Since then, people have arrived from many other countries – quite possibly most of the nations on Earth.

The point is that immigration is nothing new in Leeds. It’s been happening for centuries. Go back several generations and most of us have our family origins somewhere else. An ancestor of mine arrived here from East Yorkshire in the 1820s. In those days, that made him an outsider, but he was one of thousands drawn here by industry and the promise of money.

All through my books, I’ve had immigrants. There’s Henry, Joe Buck’s black servant in the 1730s, a recurring character in the Richard Nottingham series. Romany travellers in Cold Cruel Winter. The Irish are all through the Tom Harper books, and a focus on the Jews in the Leylands in Two Bronze Pennies. West Indian musicians – working as street cleaners – pop up in Dark Briggate Blues. Perhaps they’re there to make a point, but really, it’s simply a reflection of life as it was.

The fact is that people want a better life for themselves and their children. They want to feel safe. It doesn’t matter where you’re born, it’s a common human impulse. And once they settle here, these people are as much Leeds as the rest of us. They’ve added and contributed to my hometown and made it a better place.

I’m proud that my city is a city of immigrants.

How Do I Rate My Books?

As you hopefully know, I have a new book coming out next week (it called The Hanging Psalm, in case you weren’t aware). Take a big breath time, it’s the start of a new series, and my publisher has just accepted the follow-up, which will be appearing in a year’s time (I know, it’s hard to think that far in advance).

When something like that happens, though, I tend to look at those titles on my bookshelf with my name on them and have a think about them. It’s very rare for me to go back and re-read any. Certainly not for pleasure; I might have forgotten the details of the plots, but not the months of work that went into each one. If you’re a writer, by the time you’ve written something, revised it, gone through the publisher’s edits and then the proofs, you’re pretty much sick of seeing it.

But I have a surprising number of books out there. Quite often it astonishes me, makes me wonder just how that happened. And it makes me wonder what I think of them in retrospect. So, it’s time for an honest assessment.

 

I started out with the Richard Nottingham books. The Broken Token took several years to see the light of day. It was finished in 2006 and finally appeared four years later. In my memory, it’s curiously poetic, as is most of the series, a style that seemed to fit the character and the times – Leeds in the 1730s, for those who don’t know. Cold Cruel Winter was named one of the Mysteries of the Year by Library Journal, something that floored me. It’s a book that came from a single fact – the trial transcripts of executed men were sometimes bound in their skin. What crime writer wouldn’t relish doing something with that? And it was where I began to explore the grey area between right and wrong. The third book, The Constant Lovers, has its points, but taking Richard out of Leeds, even if it’s just into the surrounding villages, was probably a misstep. It diffused the focus. Leeds, tight and dense, is his milieu, and he’s been back in there ever since. The standout in the series for me, though, will always be At the Dying of the Year. It was the hardest to write, the one that cut deepest into me and left me depressed for a while afterwards. But the emotions are very raw and real on every page. Even thinking about it now, I can still feel them. Returning to Richard after a few years with Free from All Danger felt like a homecoming of sorts. I’d originally intended eight books in the series. That was number seven, but it left him at the end with some share of happiness, and God knows he deserves that.

I do have a soft spot for the pair of novels featuring Lottie Armstrong (Modern Crimes and The Year of the Gun). She’s so vibrant and alive, both as a young woman and in her forties. It’s impossible not to like her. The problem is that I painted myself into a corner; it’s impossible to ever bring her back, although she seems quite happy to leave things as they are. In different ways, I’m hugely proud of them both, and particularly of Lottie. I still feel she might pop in for a cup of tea and a natter.

The Dan Markham books (Dark Briggate Blues and The New Eastgate Swing) book came after re-reading Chandler once again and wondering what a private detective novel set in the North of England would be like. I found my answers. The original is the better book, harder and more real, and it spawned a play, to my astonishment. The second certainly isn’t bad, but it doesn’t quite catch the pizazz of the first.

Then there are the anomalies – a three-book series set in medieval Chesterfield. The first came as a literal flash on inspiration, the others were harder work, and the difference shows. I lived down by there for a few years, I like the town itself and I think that shows. There’s also a pair of books set in Seattle in the 1980s and ‘90s that hardly anyone knows about – they’re only available on ebook and audiobook. But I spent twenty years in that city, a big chunk of my life, and I loved it. I was involved in music as a journalist (still am, to a small degree), and the novels, still crime, are part of that passion. You know what? I still really believe in them. They’re pretty accurate snapshots of a time and place, and the scenes that developed in the town – the way music itself was a village in a booming city.

The Dead on Leave, with Leeds in the 1930s of the Depression, was a book born out of anger at the politics around and how they seem to be a rehash of that period. It’s a one-off, it has to be, but I do like it a lot – more time might change my view, but honestly, I hope not.

And that brings me to Tom and Annabelle Harper. I’m not quite sure why, but I feel that they’re maybe my biggest achievement to date. That’s a surprise to me, given that I swore I’d never write a book set in Victorian times. Yet, in some ways they feel like the most satisfying. More complex, yet even more character-driven. And I think someone like Annabelle is the biggest gift anyone can be given. She’s not the focus of the novels, but she walks right off the page, into life. I didn’t create here – she was there, waiting for me. And what feel like the best books in the series are the ones that involve her more, in an organic way: Skin Like Silver and The Tin God. Not every book works as well as I’d hoped; in Two Bronze Pennies I don’t think I achieved what I set out to do. My ambition was greater than my skill. But maybe I’m getting there. The next book in the series, The Leaden Heart, takes place in 1899, the close of a century, and I feel I’m starting to do all my characters real justice. I’m currently working on one set in 1908, so the 20th century is already here, and I still want to take them to the end of World War I, a natural closing point for the series. I feel that I’m creating not only good crime novels, and I strive to make each one quite different, but also a portrait of a family in changing times – and also a more complete picture of Leeds.

And that’s always been the subtext, although it took me a long time to realise it. Leeds is the constant, the character always in the background, changing its shape and its character a little in each era. And I’m trying to portray that, to take the readers there, on its streets, with their smells and noises. I’m hoping to have a novel set in every decade from 1890s-1950s (maybe even the ‘60s, if inspiration arrives), to show how the place changed.

In a way, the nearest I’ve come to running after the character that is Leeds and its essence is a collection of short stories, Leeds, the Biography, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. It’s based on anecdotes, snippets of history, and folk tales, and runs from 360 CE to 1963. For the most part, they’re light tales. But one has resonance – Little Alice Musgrove. That still stands as a good story (you can probably find it online)

But with The Hanging Psalm, out next week, I’m going back to an unexplored place, Leeds in the 1820s, when the Industrial Revolution was still quite new. The Regency, although there’s very little gentility to it; better to describe it as Regency Noir. The book is still too fresh for me to asses it fairly. But I do know how electric it felt to write. So I’m hopeful it will stand the test of time in my mind…and in the meantime, I hope you’ll buy it (definitely buy it if you can!) or borrow it from the library and enjoy it.

Hanging Psalm revised

A Play With Live Jazz

I’ve been sitting on this news for a while, but as the official announcement was made today, I’m very pleased to tell you that my play, New Briggate Blues, commissioned by Jazz Leeds, will be performed next July as part of JazzLeedsFest 2018.

It features Dan Markham, the Leeds enquiry agent from Dark Briggate Blues and The New Eastgate Swing, along with his wife, Carla, as well as a live jazz quintet, who will perform during the play.

It’s very much a celebration of Studio 20, the Leeds jazz club that features heavily in both books, and will be directed by Ray Brown.DBB cover crop

May You Live In Interesting Times

There appear to be some mighty things afoot. Autumn is going to be very busy. Three – yes, three! – books coming out, although the real highlight is going to be Free From All Danger, the first Richard Nottingham novel in over four years. The proofs have been completed and it’s with the printer, due out in October.

Richard and his family have always had a place deep in my heart, so it’s only right that the book launch should be a celebration. It’s going to be at the Leeds Library on Commercial Street on Thursday, November 9, at 7 pm (free, of course, but please contact them and book a place). It’s going to be an event, with a script and a specially-composed soundtrack by Chris Emmerson. There may also be some live music.

To start the ball rolling, here’s the first trailer for the book

May 2018 will see the publication of The Tin God, the sixth Tom Harper novel. My publisher said this about it: “…this latest entry continues the ongoing series themes of social change and progress, tradition vs modernisation, female emancipation, the grinding poverty and social injustice of the times, to superb effect, highlighting all too vividly the tensions caused by such rapid social change: what is highly welcome for some being anathema to others.  (Such tensions being all too evident in politics today).

 

Once again, devoted family man Tom Harper and his spirited wife Annabelle, battling passionately for the causes she believes in as an early pioneer on the long march towards women’s equality, make for thoroughly likeable lead protagonists, and the plot skips along at an impressive pace, conjuring up a compelling sense of rising tension as the election approaches.”

 

The launch event for this one will be a little different; it will be folded into an exhibition called The Vote Before The Vote at Leeds Central Library (2018, of course, marks the centenary of some women receiving the vote, although the exhibition highlights that many could vote in local elections before that. It will be curated by independent academic Vine Pemberton Joss, whose suggestion sparked the book.

 

Lastly, it looks as if Dan Markham from Dark Briggate Blues will star in a play. And a play with live jazz, at that. Nothing’s set in stone, but it seems likely to happen at Leeds Jazz Fest next July, and will mostly be a celebration of Studio 20, Leeds’ pioneering jazz club ibn the 1950s. No title yet, but the next 12 months promise to be very exciting.

Some Days The Gods Give You Pearls

‘This is a strange question, but do you still have an air raid shelter at the bottom on your garden?’

As openings go, it’s quite an ice breaker, and the woman’s eyes did widen. But I’m getting a tiny bit ahead of myself…

This morning I decided to take a long walk, out by the house where I spent my childhood (we moved in when I was one and out when I was 11). I’d driven past it several times but never stopped. Knocking on the door and telling the people living there that I’d grown up the in the place…well, it seemed a good way to receive a suspicious look.

Today, though, I was on foot and just thought why the hell not. I was there and I had nothing to lose.

The woman, it turned out, had lived in the house since 1970, five years after we left. Thankfully, she believed me, invited me in and showed me the place as well as the garden, understandably her pride and joy.

I mentioned that the house and street featured in a couple of my novels.

‘What’s your name?’ she asked. I told her and her eyes widened again. Because she’d read (and thankfully, enjoyed) Dark Briggate Blues and been astonished to see Carr Manor Parade in there. I mentioned that her actually house was going to be the 1940s home for Lottie Armstrong, the main character of The Year of the Gun, which comes out in 2017.

We talked, and finally I set off again. I felt blessed by the sort of welcome I had never dared to imagine, and an invitation to return anytime. Thank you, I truly appreciate it. Some days the gods really do give you pearls.

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And the house? In many regards it was much the same – a big old cupboard in the kitchen, the drying rack on a rope, the stairs – but inevitably smaller than in my memory.

Oh, the air raid shelter? It’s still there, just blocked off these days.

Audiobook Competition

 

Remember, the panda doesn’t lieDSCF1762

A copy of the audio version of Dark Briggate Blues, wonderfully read by Paul Tyreman. This is the mp3 version, so all eight hours fit on a single disc.

Well, you wonder, how can I get this wondrous thing?

It’s simple. Just write a comment under this blog saying in which decade Dark Briggate Blues is set. I’ll select a winner from the correct answers on April 16.

Go on, you know you want to.

Living On Eastgate Time

Yes, The New Eastgate Swing is officially here, and the launch is just around the corner (Thursday, February 11, 7pm at Waterstone’s in Leeds – with FREE WINE), the perfect place to buy a copy, although other Waterstone’s and vendors are available, of course.

Having given you one taste of the book, here’s another, just enough to twist your arm and make you part with your money, I hope…

He was reading The Quiet American when the telephone rang. Without even thinking, he reached over and lifted the receiver, hearing the coins drop into the box when he answered.

‘Hello Dan, how are you? It’s been a long time.’

The voice was so familiar. He ought to know it … then she gave a soft, throaty chuckle and he could place her. Carla. She’d walked out of his life three years before, caught up and broken by the case that ruined his fingers. There’d been a final meal when she made her farewell and then she was gone. He’d loved her. It had taken months for him to realise that, even longer before her ghost stopped walking through his dreams.

‘I’m doing quite well,’ he answered hesitantly. ‘What about you? Where are you?’

‘I’m down at the station. My train’s been delayed. Look, I don’t suppose you fancy a drink, do you? I have a couple of hours to kill.’

‘Of course.’ He didn’t even need to think about it.

‘Oh good.’ She sounded genuinely pleased. ‘The Scarborough Hotel in a few minutes?’

‘Yes.’

****

Markham surfaced to the sound of banging, not sure where it was coming from as he opened his eyes. Blinking, he glanced at his wristwatch. Five minutes to four. Almost like night outside.

The noise continued, steady and growing louder. The door. Someone was knocking at his door. He struggled up, body still feeling heavy and moving slowly, dragging on shirt and trousers.

‘Hold your bloody horses,’ he shouted.

Dressed, pushing his fingers through his hair, he turned the lock. There was a man in a trilby, cheap suit, and worn mackintosh, a thin Clark Gable moustache over his upper lip. Next to him a copper in uniform, the point of his helmet almost touching the ceiling.

‘Are you Daniel Markham?’ the man in plain clothes asked. He was short, probably the bare minimum for a policeman, with an aggressive, bantam expression on his face.

‘Yes. Why?’

‘I’m Detective Sergeant Anderson, sir. I’d like you to accompany me down to the police station if you’d be so good.’ Everything very polite, but the tone brooked no objection.

‘Why?’ he asked in confusion. ‘What’s happened?’

‘We have reason to believe you might be able to help us in our enquiries.’

‘What enquiries?’ He put a hand against the jamb. ‘If you want me to help you, I want to know with what.’

Anderson glared at him.

‘Do you know a man called Morten Blum?’

He could feel the pit of his stomach sink.

‘I know who he is. I’ve never met him. We were hired to check on him – my partner and I. Why? What’s happened?’

‘He’s dead, sir, and under very suspicious circumstances. If you’d like to get your coat, we can be on our way.’

‘Yes, of course.’ He slipped on a sports jacket, the overcoat on top, and gloves, then turned out the light and locked the door before following them down the stairs.

Christ, what was going on?

****

Moving in a crouch, running through the empty space with his heart in his mouth, it was like being back in the training he’d had at Catterick Camp. The only difference being that there was no sergeant screaming at him.

By the time he reached the building he was gasping for breath and his heart was pounding. He waited for Baker. The only sound was the deep thrum of a generator from somewhere inside.

Then the man was there. He’d moved in silence. Markham could feel breath against his ear and two quiet words: ‘Follow me.’

Baker knew what he was doing. He seemed to go on instinct, to disappear as he moved, almost impossible to spot. His footsteps hardly seemed to disturb the ground. Finally he halted.

‘There’s a door a few yards along. We’ll go in there. Give it ten minutes. If the watchman’s coming, he should have passed by then.’

‘What the hell did you do in the war?’

‘Didn’t I ever tell you? I was in Number 4 Commando. Now keep your head down and stay shtum.’

The seconds seemed to stretch out endlessly. Markham could feel the sweat rolling down his back and his hands were clammy.

Finally there was a nudge in his ribs and a hand gesture. They crept to the door and Baker handed him a torch.

‘Keep that shining on the door whilst I open it.’

The lens was taped so only a pinprick of light showed. He focused the beam on the lock. A few movements and he could hear the tiny click as it freed. The handle turned and he held his breath, praying there was no alarm.

Just silence and they slipped inside. Baker closed the door behind them.

‘We can breathe a bit easier now,’ he said. He sounded relaxed, almost happy. ‘The watchman won’t come inside.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Stands to reason.’ He was still whispering but the words seemed to echo away into the vastness. ‘If there’s something secret in here, they won’t want everyone seeing it.’ He switched his torch back on, letting the light play around on the far walls. ‘This is too big for us to search together. We’ll have to split up. You go to the left. Keep your gloves on and the beam covered.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Meet back here in half an hour.’

He began. It was nothing more than cavernous, empty space. Each footstep felt as loud as a scream. He kept one gloved hand over the torch lens, giving just enough of a glow to direct him.

A door ahead was unlocked and took him into another part of the factory. This had been divided into smaller rooms. He tried every door. All offices, all empty. A row of them that stretched into the distance. How big was this bloody place, he wondered?

The last door stuck. But it wasn’t locked. Markham put his shoulder against it and pushed. It gave noisily, scraping against the concrete floor. He held his breath, expecting to hear someone running, alerted by the sound. Nothing. There was only silence.

A camp bed, the type he’d seen so often in barracks. Sheets and blankets neatly folded. In one corner a sink with a towel hanging over the edge. And in the air, something familiar. Just very faint, but definitely there.

The smell of Amanda Fox’s perfume.

Markham began to search, opening up the bedding, the towel, looking everywhere for any definite sign she’d been here. On his hands and knees he looked in the corners and along the skirting board. Something glinted under the bed, against the wall. He stretched, fingertips rubbing against it, then pulled it towards him. A gold ring. A wedding ring with some fine engraving and a beautifully set sapphire. He’d seen it before. It had been on her hand the last time she’d come to his office. He slipped it into the side pocket of his battledress trousers, and made sure everything in the room looked the way it had before.

Questions. Too many of them and not enough time. Only fifteen minutes left.

He moved quickly, trying to stay quiet but needing to check everything. Three locked doors; he knocked softly in case she was inside. No answer, only the soft, constant hum of machinery.

And no Amanda Fox.

He was back at the meeting place on the dot of half an hour.

‘I–’ Markham began, but Baker cut him off.

‘You need to see this.’ His voice was sober and chilling. ‘Now, Dan.’

He led the way as if he’d memorised it, barely needing the light. The path twisted and turned until he stood in front of a door.

‘Open it. Use your torch, it’s all right.’

Mystified, he turned the handle and switched on the beam.

The room was as big as a football field, the ceiling high above, lost in the darkness. At first he couldn’t make out what filled the space. Then he realised: boxes. Cardboard boxes, folded, waiting to be assembled. Each one about six feet long and two feet wide. Wave after brown wave of them. Thousands of them.

More than that. Hundreds of thousands of them. Maybe millions.

Markham turned.

‘What …?’

‘They’re coffins.’ Baker’s voice was empty. ‘Bloody cardboard coffins.’

‘But,’ he began and understood he didn’t have anything more to say. He let the light play over everything. There were acres of them.

‘Everything ready for when they drop that nuclear bomb.’ He heard the long sigh. ‘I just wanted you to see it. We’d better get out of here.’

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A Taste Of That New Eastgate Swing

It’s just a couple of week until Dan Markham’s back and The New Eastgate Swing is published. It’s 1957, the Cold War is raging, and Markham’s world is going to change. Read about it here…and if you’re in Leeds on February 11, come to the launch at Waterstone’s. There’s even going to be some free wine, I hear.

But in a blatant attempt to whet your appetite, here’s an short extract. Enjoy…

 

‘I’m sorry,’ she said breathlessly as the waiter pulled out a chair for her. There was a shhh of nylon as she sat. ‘Have you been waiting long?’ The woman held out a hand and he shook it lightly.

‘Not really, Mrs Fox.’

‘Amanda,’ she told him. ‘Please.’

‘Amanda,’ he echoed as she pulled a cigarette from her handbag and he flicked his lighter. ‘Now, what’s all this about?’

She’d arrived late, escorted over by the waiter. In her early thirties, he judged, and wearing a close-fitting grey jersey dress that reached to her knees. It flattered her and she knew it, moving easily on high heels. Dark hair in an Italian cut, subtle makeup and a graceful, Audrey Hepburn face.

He’d had time to sit, staring around the restaurant and smoking. The place was new, fitted out in leather and oak, wanting to appear expensive, solid and timeless. The year before it had been different. Another couple of years it would be something else again.

‘Let’s wait a few minutes for that.’ Her eyes were bright, a deep, mysterious blue. ‘We’ll eat first. I always like pleasure before business, don’t you?’ It was a gentle tease. ‘I’m surprised we’ve never met before.’

‘It’s just how things are, I suppose.’

She carried an air of sophistication, assured, in control. Next to her he felt juvenile, provincial. She ordered quickly, as if she knew the menu by heart. He decided on steak and kidney pie. Very English. Very filling and plain.

‘Then I’m glad to finally change that.’ She flashed a brilliant smile, very white teeth and blood-red lips.

‘You said your husband’s abroad?’

She nodded.

‘Germany. We do quite a bit of business over there, he’s gone a few times each year. Bonn, West Berlin.’ She shrugged. He tried to place her accent. Somewhere in the Home Counties, a good education. But grammar school, not private he decided. Then plenty of polish.

‘I wouldn’t have thought there was much for an enquiry agent over there.’

‘Oh.’ She lit a cigarette and waved the words away in a thick plume of smoke. ‘Still the fallout from the war. Tell me about yourself, Mr Markham.’

‘Dan.’

Amanda Fox nodded her acknowledgement, staring at him coolly.

‘You must have started in this game when you were young.’

‘Seven years ago. I was twenty-one.’

‘Are you good at what you do?’

‘I like to think so,’ he replied with a soft smile.

‘There was some business a while ago, wasn’t there?’ She tapped her cigarette in the crystal ashtray. ‘Before we moved here.’

‘Yes.’ He wasn’t about to say more. If she knew, she’d already read the newspaper clippings and heard the gossip.

The food arrived and they made small talk – the weather, the way traffic grew worse each month – until the plates had been cleared and coffee sat in front of them.

‘Do you know Germany at all?’ Amanda Fox asked as she lit another cigarette and blew smoke towards the ceiling. He tried to read her face but she was giving nothing away.

‘I did my National Service there.’

‘Really?’ Her eyes smiled for a moment. ‘Where were you?’

‘Hamburg, mostly. Some time in West Berlin. I was military intelligence.’

‘Mark was there after the fighting ended. Stayed there for a couple of years, then Vienna. He made some good contacts. Maybe you met him?’

‘Was he an officer?’

‘A captain. Why?’

‘We didn’t mix too much with them.’

‘Of course, sorry. Do you speak the lingo?’

‘A little.’ He’d learned enough to get by. ‘What about you?’ Markham asked. ‘What do you do?’

‘Oh, I just help around the office.’ She said it dismissively, as if she was just a secretary or receptionist. He didn’t believe a word of it.

‘What does your husband do in Germany?’

‘Background stuff, mostly. Checking on people that companies want to bring over. The whole denazification process wasn’t always thorough, shall we say?’ She flashed him another white smile. ‘Mark goes into more depth.’

‘I thought that would be government business.’

‘They farm some of it out. As I said, Mark has contacts.’

He nodded. The old boys’ network in action. The way everything was done in this country.

‘And what would you want from me?’

‘Let me ask you something, Dan. You were in intelligence. Did you have to sign the Official Secrets Act?’

‘Of course.’

‘Good,’ she said with a smile. ‘That makes everything much easier.’

‘Why?’ Suddenly Markham was very suspicious. ‘What do you want?’

‘It’s nothing much. Just keeping an occasional eye on people who end up around here.’

‘People?’ he asked sharply. ‘What people?’

‘Germans who would be useful to our defence industry,’ Amanda Fox glanced around the restaurant before she answered and spoke very quietly.

‘From the West or East?’ That was important.

‘East, of course,’ she replied coolly. ‘We work with the Gehlen people in West Berlin, bring them out, give them new names and backgrounds. I’m sure you can understand why.’

Of course. No one in this country would be happy to have a German around. Not with the war still so close in memory.

‘The government knows?’ He wanted to be certain.

‘It’s their idea, Dan. These men all have good skills.’

‘I don’t understand, why can’t you do it yourselves?’ he wondered.

‘Mark is gone so often. We’re pretty much a one-man band. As I said, I just look after the office. What we need is someone who has the skills and background.’ Now he was certain she knew all about him; this wasn’t lucky dip and hope for the best on her part. ‘We pay generously,’ she added, ‘and it won’t take a great deal of your time.’ She cocked an eyebrow. ‘Does it sound interesting?’

‘Maybe. I’ll need to talk to my partner. He’s ex-police.’

‘All right,’ she agreed, but he saw he’d sprung something unexpected on her.

‘We’ll talk about it and I’ll be in touch.’ He shook her hand as he rose. ‘Don’t worry, he’ll have had to sign the Act, too. I’ll give you a ring on Monday, Mrs Fox.’

‘Amanda,’ she corrected him.

‘Of course. Amanda.’

 

***

 

He strolled thoughtfully back through town. There was a weekend eagerness in the Friday afternoon crowds. Women squeezed past the top-hatted doorman to spend their wages at Marshall & Snelgrove’s department store. An older generation sat upstairs in Fuller’s and sipped tea.

He wondered exactly what Amanda Fox and her mysterious husband wanted. More than the job she’d promised, he was certain of that.

Baker hadn’t returned yet. He spent a while cleaning up some of the paperwork, filing notes and pictures and cleaning off his desk. The card table sat there accusingly, a paperback book under one of the legs to keep it steady. They needed something more professional if people were going to take them seriously.

By four he was still on his own, desk clean, everything put away. No rain yet, but the skies were as heavy as slate. Should he wait, or simply call it a day and beat the traffic out on Harrogate Road?

He was just emerging on to the street when he heard a shout and saw Baker turning the corner from Lands Lane.

‘Let’s go and get a cuppa,’ he said as he lumbered close, hands deep in his raincoat pockets, eyes serious.

Upstairs at the Kardomah, Markham ordered coffee from Joyce, the waitress he’d known for years. Tea and a slice of Dundee cake for Baker. He waited until the man had poured sugar into his drink.

‘You don’t look too happy.’

‘Well …’ he began, taking his pipe from a bulging suit pocket and lighting it. ‘I am and I’m not. That Miss Harding was about as helpful as she was yesterday. But I finally got her to let me look at the post that had arrived for our friend in the last few days. She had it locked away in a bureau.’

‘And?’

He pulled out an onionskin aerogramme and let it fall on the table.

‘Just some ‘Dear Occupant’ bumf and this. She didn’t notice me take it. I had a look inside.’

He’d opened it slowly and carefully. Dutch stamps and a Rotterdam postmark. Markham began to read then glanced up quickly.

‘See what I mean?’ Baker asked. ‘That’s Kraut, isn’t it?’

‘It is,’ Markham answered.

‘Why would a Dutchman be writing in German?’

Markham let the question hang as he scanned the words. Either his German was rustier than he thought, or half of this didn’t make sense. He looked again, taking his time, trying to put a meaning to it all. He could follow a few sentences here and there. The rest was gibberish. ‘Did you speak it?’ he asked.

‘Never learnt. Why? What does it say?’

‘That’s the problem. It doesn’t.’

Baker look confused.

‘It’s got to say summat.’

‘A few sentences do. “Took the train to Magdeburg.” Then there’s “Across by Salzwedel.” They’re both in East Germany. A couple more like that, place names in the DDR. The rest is just nonsense.’

‘Are you sure it’s not just you?’

‘Positive.’ He folded the letter. ‘I tell you what, Stephen, we’re in over our heads with this one.’

 

The telephone was ringing. He blinked his eyes and glanced at the clock on the bedside table. Quarter past five, the luminous hands read. Still pitch dark. Who the hell could it be at this time?

There was a chill in the living room, enough to make him shiver as he lifted the receiver.

‘I hope this is important,’ he said. There was frost on the outside of the window, making the harsh light of the street lamps blurry.

‘I’m not calling you at this hour for my bloody health,’ Baker answered. ‘I’m down at the office. Can you get here?’

‘Why? What is it?’

‘Just get yourself here.’ He hung up, letting the line buzz.

Come And Do The New Eastgate Swing

The first copy of The New Eastgate Swing – the second book to feature Dan Markham (Dark Briggate Blues) set in 1950s Leeds – has arrived in the post. It’ll be in the bookshops early next month, in paperback and waiting for you.

You can read about it here, but there’s jazz, the lingering strands of the Second World War, the growing threat of the Cold War, spies, assassins, and, yes, a touch of 1950s romance.

There’s going to be a launch for the book at 7pm on Thursday February 11 at Waterstone’s on Albion Street in Leeds. It’s free, I promise fun, and, well, FREE WINE. If any of you fancy dressing up in 1950s clothes, there might even be a prize for you.

And did I mention FREE WINE. Maybe I did. But I’m sure you don’t need any inducements. My publisher’s going to be there, so a good turnout would be very much appreciated. And you get FREE WINE.

So come along. Please.

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That’s Somethin’ Else

A little less than five years has passed since Creme de la Crime took a chance on me and published the first Richard Nottingham book, The Broken Token. Someone believe in my writing enough to put an entire novel in print and get it out there. It’s impossible to describe how it felt at the launch in May 2010. Proud doesn’t come close. My only regret was that my parents weren’t alive to see it.

Now, in little less than a month I have another new book out, and there have been a fair few in between. Since I was given that first opportunity, I grasped it hard, and I’m immensely grateful that people what to publish and to read what I write.

I write every day. Every single day of the year. It’s what I do. I’m many things, as we all are, but writer is very close to the top, if not right at the peak. I love to write. It’s a pleasure. It’s an honour. I still do a fair bit of writing about music, my avocation, but the focus is on the novels.

Overnight success is rarely that. Writing is a craft to be mastered, and that takes time. We never master it, not really. We just keep trying. I know I am. I attempt new things. Some work, some don’t. And I keep trying to gain readers, one by one, and hang on to those who like my work.

Bit by bit, I try to move ahead. I’ll never be a bestseller. I’ll never win the Nobel Prize for Literature (my hope when I was in my teen and foolish). I’ve found what I do and it took long enough. But the movement is there and in the last 12 months it seems to have been a giant stride, first with Gods of Gold, then with Dark Briggate Blues. Lovely reviews, press coverage, plenty of people at the launches and events I’ve done. That’s incredibly heartening.

Both books are up for the CWA Historical Dagger. I may win, I may not – there are plenty of betters writers out there. Dark Briggate Blues is up for a Regional Read.

I’m lucky, I have publishers who believe in me. I’m not lost somewhere in the mid-list of some publishing giant. I can phone the publishers I deal with and talk to them. They do all they can to push the books with excellent publicists. I’m proud of everything I’ve put out. I’ve made many wonderful friends and had their support and had the chance to know and befriend writers who’ve influenced me. That’s pretty amazing to me.

But today, today felt like a quantum leap. I had to go into Waterstones in Leeds – the local branch of a national chain where I held the launch for Dark Briggate Blues and recently did a signing. My books weren’t on the shelf. No, the manager told me, and showed me. One is displayed on a table. And then he showed me something else. My books have their own table in the crime section, because they’re selling so well. Only two of them at present, because the third they stock is currently sold out. And they’ll be getting in the hardback of Two Bronze Pennies when it’s published.

I was amazed. In fact, I walked out without taking a picture of it. A few steps before I realised my stupidity and walked back in. Success isn’t a fortune in money. This is what it looks like. And thank you all.

Wastones table