1734. When a young country lad comes looking for his sister who’s run away to Leeds, Constable Richard Nottingham isn’t optimistic; too many girls come seeking their fortune. But before a day has passed the young man is found dead, his throat cut. Who could have wanted him dead?
The Leeds Nottingham knows is changing. Someone is vandalising the charity school his daughter has founded. There are plans to reopen the workhouse. And Tom Finer, a criminal who vanished years before, has returned.
Then the girl the young man came seeking is dragged from the river, drowned. Nottingham, John Sedgwick and Rob Lister find themselves investigating killings where nothing is as it seems.
Leeds, England, 1734. Constable Richard Nottingham has still not recovered from the terrible tragedy that took his wife and daughter the previous year. But as spring turns to summer, Nottingham has no choice but to focus on his job. A young man from the country asks the constable to help find his sister, who’s run
away to Leeds, but before Nottingham can launch a search, both the young man and his sister are found dead. Then Nottingham’s old nemesis, Tom Finer, returns to Leeds from London, claiming he’s given up his criminal ways. Nottingham knows better, but the trick is to catch Finer when he commits his next
crime. After another body is found, Nottingham and his deputies are stretched to the limit, and then stretched still further, when the school that Nottingham’s daughter, Emily, has opened for the poor is hit first by vandalism and then by murder. Evoking authentic sights, sounds, smells, and customs of eighteenth-century England, Nickson offers up a moving and gripping thriller that will have fans of historical mysteries hooked.
From Publishers Weekly (starred review):
Effective portrayals of brutality and genuine emotion and loss distinguish Nickson’s well-crafted sixth Richard Nottingham novel (after 2013’s At the Dying of the Year). In 1734, Nottingham, Constable of the City of Leeds, carries out his duties despite his wife’s devastating death. His hopes for fulfillment now lie with his grown daughter, Emily, who has opened her own school for the poor, and who is seriously involved with Rob Lister, one of Nottingham’s assistants. He fears for Emily’s safety after vandals attack her school. Meanwhile, several people die unnaturally, including Jem Carter, a man who was searching for his 16-year-old sister. In addition, a former crime lord returns to town, and Nottingham again has to navigate a prickly relationship with his bosses. The author’s willingness to shake up the status quo marks this as one of the best historical series set in the first half of the 18th century.
This is the sixth book in a series of historical crime fiction, set in Leeds in the early 1700s. Public order is maintained by the Constable of Leeds, Richard Nottingham, along with his deputy John Sedgwick, and various other of his ‘men’ including Rob Lister, son of the owner of the Leeds Mercury, and who is courting Richard’s sole surviving daughter, Emily.
The story starts with a brother, Jem Carter, looking for his missing sister Jenny, who had come to Leeds to seek her fortune. Of course, it is highly likely that she’s ended up in one of the many brothels, but no-one seems to have seen her, not even the new owners of the late Amos Worthy’s old establishment, Mrs Wade, and her son and two daughters (the ‘fair and tender ladies’ of the title perhaps?). Then, shortly afterwards, Jem’s badly beaten dead body is found. Had he been asking questions in the wrong places? And then a face from the past turns up in Leeds, Tom Finer. A scoundrel that Nottingham thought he was rid of, when he went off to London. What is he doing in Leeds again? What underhand deeds is he planning? Finer claims he is a changed man, but Nottingham doesn’t believe him. And in another strand of the book, we learn about Emily and her charity school for young daughters of the poor. She inherited some money from Amos when he died, which she has used to set up the school. But then the school is attacked, and Nottingham is affected badly. He is worried that someone is targeting another member of his family, and yet again he will lose someone precious to him.
As with the previous books, slowly but surely, Nottingham starts to uncover what is behind the various events, from Jem’s murder, to Jenny’s disappearance, to Tom Finer’s motives and the person or persons behind the attacks on Emily’s school. Mostly through hard slog, and a relentless need to talk to anyone and everyone to find out what people have heard and seen, even the people on the fringes of society. Nothing is too easy, and there is plenty to sadden Nottingham’s heart during his attempts to get to the truth. With plenty of side stories, and descriptions of 1730s Leeds to entertain, this book is as good a read as the previous books in the series, and let’s hope its not the last.
From Kirkus Reviews:
The time is 1734, the place Leeds, the problem multiple murders.
As constable of Leeds, Richard Nottingham, along with his friend and able assistant John Sedgwick, and Rob Lister, his daughter Emily’s boyfriend, tries to keep crime to a minimum. The city’s wealth is built on the wool trade, but a good many of its people live in abject poverty. So when a young rural lad comes looking for his runaway sister, Nottingham is not optimistic, since most young girls who arrive seeking a better life end up as prostitutes. Before Nottingham can discover anything, the young man is found with his throat cut. But that’s not the constable’s only problem. Emily, who’s running a charity school for poor girls, has been materially assisted by donations from a wealthy wool merchant and his friends. Now, someone is vandalizing the school. Despite Nottingham’s best efforts, the destruction continues. The return of Tom Finer, a criminal Nottingham had thought dead, brings new problems when he strikes a deal with the powers that be to reopen the town’s dreaded workhouse. Even worse, the murdered man’s runaway sister is found dead in the river, and another young woman is found in a shallow grave; neither has any apparent signs of violence. The murder of his wife (At The Dying of the Year, 2013) has killed Nottingham’s zest for life, but since he still loves his family, his friends and the city he is sworn to protect, he doggedly continues his search for what may be a serial killer.
To Nickson’s customary historical detail and social commentary, Nottingham’s latest adventure adds twists that may leave fans stunned.
There’s also a very nice – and lengthy – review here: http://opionator.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/fair-and-tender-ladies-by-chris-nickson/
From Library Journal:
Adrift since his beloved wife’s death, Constable Richard Nottingham must force himself to concentrate on policing the English city of Leeds in the year 1734. Crime has ticked up of late, perhaps an indication of the city’s burgeoning growth. But the disturbing deaths of two young siblings capture his team’s attention. Nottingham suspects the female victim had been working for a brothel. Meanwhile, Tom Finer, a bad penny who disappeared some 20 years ago, is back in town with big plans of his own, and Nottingham is suspicious of his intentions. Bad guys didn’t like the cops back in the 18th century any more than they do now; one of Nottingham’s own is savagely beaten and dies. The constable is plenty focused now, resulting in a dramatic and startling conclusion.
VERDICT As always, Nickson vividly evokes the culture and rhythms of 18th-century England in his historical series, now at number six (after At the Dying of the Year). Violent yet layered with compassion, his tales draw the reader into his characters’ world, demanding attention.
From Historical Novels Review:
1734. The hits just keep coming for Richard Nottingham, Constable of Leeds. Still mourning the death of his beloved wife (murdered in the last book), he finds solace in his daughter, Emily, and his work. Aided by Emily’s beau, Rob Lister, and laconic deputy John Sedgwick, Nottingham investigates when a young farmer, newly arrived to search for his lost sister, is found with his throat cut. Nottingham is quickly distracted, however, when Emily is threatened and her charity school is repeatedly vandalized.
Nickson proves adept at characterization – so much so that when, yet again, a main character is unexpectedly dispensed with, the reader feels the rug yanked out from under her, and is just as lost as the surviving characters. Nickson has a gift for illustrating the voids left when those we love are taken from us, a negative space which cannot be filled. Thus, his mysteries are, for lack of a better word, sorrowful, and character development shares equal page space with plotting. Dialogue has enough period/local slang to immerse without distracting, and Nickson is skillful in illustrating the varied social strata of 1730s Leeds. The procedural aspects are also well-done, with the result being an engrossing mystery – but one that may well leave readers in tears along the way.