It’s not that long since The Blood Covenant was published, and I still firmly believe e it’s the best book I’ve put out…so far.
But A Dark Steel Death is coming to give it a run for its money in September. It’s the 11th Tom Harper novel, set in Leeds in 1917, the grimmest days of the Great War.
What’s it about? Sabotage, traitors…perhaps. The story isn’t as straightforward as that. Here’s a short extract from somewhere near the beginning for you to read and whet your appetite.
It’s available to pre-order from all the usual sources, but here is the cheapest, with free UK postage. However, please, do give your business to indies if you can.
Oh, keep scrolling after the extract to see the cover. It’s a cracker.
He was starting to believe that he lived in a world made of paper. It never ended: the correspondence from the War Office, the Home Office, the watch committee, divisional heads . . . the minutes of all the meetings. It was probably all important. But Tom Harper felt as if it had nothing to do with coppering. He’d cleared his desk yesterday, starting the week with good intentions. Now it was Tuesday morning and he knew he’d be buried under another blizzard of paper.
For the last month things had been worse: Chief Constable Parker had been on sick leave with pneumonia. A week in hospital, but now he was recovering. It was a slow process; he wasn’t likely to return before March. And that meant Harper was stuck with two jobs.
He pulled out his watch and opened the cover. Quarter to seven. Hardly light yet outside. With luck, he’d have the next fifteen minutes to himself. It might be all he’d manage in the days that began and ended while it was still dark.
Then the telephone rang.
‘We have trouble, sir.’ Superintendent Ash. His voice was immediately recognizable, even turned hard and metallic on the line.
Harper tensed. ‘Why? What’s happened? Is something wrong at Millgarth?’
‘Not here, sir. It’s the army clothing depot. You remember they took over the old tram sheds and the King’s Mill next door to it back in 1914?’
Harper felt the shiver of fear crawl up his spine.
‘Yes, of course.’ He’d been part of the group invited to tour the buildings before they opened. Ton after ton of garments sorted, inspected and bundled every week before they were sent off to the soldiers. A gigantic operation.
‘Two hours ago, the night watchman was making his final round at the mill.’ Ash paused, considering his words. ‘He thought he heard someone dashing off, then he found a box of matches and some torn-up newspaper in a corner. Came straight outside and reported it to the bobby on guard. His sergeant started the constables searching, then he rang me.’
Christ Almighty, someone starting a fire in a place like that, filled with clothes . . . the place would be an inferno before anyone could stop it.
‘I’ve had men going through the place from top to bottom, sir,’ Ash continued.
‘What have they found?’ He was gripping the instrument so tight that his knuckles had turned white.
‘Nothing, sir. I’ve had them search that other depot on Park Row with a nit comb, too. It’s clean. That’s where I am right now.’
Sabotage. It couldn’t be anything else. The thoughts roared through his head, hammering hard against his skull.
‘I’ll be there in five minutes.’
‘Yes, sir. I haven’t informed the army yet.’
‘Leave that to me,’ Harper promised. ‘I want someone vetting the records of everyone who works in those places,’ Harper said.
‘Walsh is already on it. One of the new detective constables is helping him.’
He thanked God that Walsh was too old to go and fight. Twice he’d tried to join up; both times he’d been turned away at the recruiting station. Just as well; they needed experienced men like him to stay in the force.
His secretary was hanging up her coat as he rushed out.
‘You have Inspector Collins at eight,’ Miss Sharp told him.
‘Tell him I’ll try to be back by nine.’
His mouth was dry and his heart beating a terrified tattoo in his chest as he dashed down Park Row. Another raw winter’s day, coming on dawn, the morning sky pale and mottled with high clouds and a thin north wind. He could have been a businessman hurrying down the street to his office, buried in his overcoat and hat. But he had more important things on his mind than profit and loss. Barnbow last month, and they didn’t know the cause yet. Now this.
Leeds had a saboteur.
And the police needed to stop him.
Ash was waiting outside the warehouse. He was still a big, brawny man, but with the years he’d acquired plenty of padding. His belly jutted under the waistcoat and his neck had grown thick and fleshy. With his white hair and lined face, and the spectacles perched on his nose, he’d come to look like an old, wise man. Time had left its mark on him, but it had on them all. By rights, he and Harper should both have been put out to grass by now. But with so many good men, younger men, gone to war, they were needed. And they were working longer, harder hours than ever before.
‘The army will be here in a moment,’ Harper said, and nodded at the staff car racing along the road.
Brigadier Fox looked too young for his rank, barely forty, but Harper knew he’d earned it, gunned down twice in no man’s land and patched up before going back to the trenches. Now permanently back in England after a third wound left him needing a stick to walk. These days he supervised the garrison at Carlton barracks and was in charge of security at the facilities in Leeds. A war hero and his men loved him for it.
‘Brian,’ Harper said as they shook hands. ‘This is Superintendent Ash. You can trust him with your life. I have.’
A nod and a smile, then Fox’s expression turned grim. ‘What are we going to do about this? We need to discover who’s behind it before he has chance to do any damage.’
‘Increase the patrols every night,’ Ash suggested. ‘Vary the times, so there’s no routine.’
‘Nobody in or out without proper identification,’ Harper added. ‘Search everyone. No matches or cigarette lighters allowed inside.’
The brigadier opened his mouth as if to object, then stopped.
‘Yes,’ he agreed. ‘All sensible. We’ll do that. I’ll post a couple of armed sentries at each of the other places.’ He gave a sad, twisted smile. ‘A rifle and a bayonet can scare people off very effectively.’
The staff car took them to the clothing depot on Swinegate. The building was faceless, anonymous, the stone black with decades of soot. Royal Army Clothing Depot was stencilled across the wide double gates, the letters beginning to fade.
The old watchman, a worried, defensive fellow with patches of white stubble on his cheeks, stared down at his boots as he told his story once again.