June, 1890. Leeds is close to breaking point. The gas workers are on strike. The supplies are dangerously low. Factories and businesses are closing; the lights are flickering at going out. Soon the place will be at a standstill.
Detective Inspector Tom Harper has more urgent matters on his mind. The beat constable claims eight-year-old Martha Parkinson has disappeared. Her father insists she’s visiting an aunt in Halifax – but Harper doesn’t believe him. And when Col Parkinson is found dead the following morning, the case takes on an increasing desperation.
But then Harper’s search for Martha is interrupted by the murder of a replacement gas worker, stabbed to death outside the Town Hall while surrounded by a hostile mob. Pushed to find a quick solution, he discovers that there’s more to this killing than meets the eye – and that there may be a connection to Martha’s disappearance.
“A vibrant sense of living history, with strong, well-drawn characters … I loved it”
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From the review on the Crime Fiction Lover blog (read the whole thing here):
“Nickson wears his heart on his sleeve. It is clear where his sympathies lie, but the political polemic doesn’t get in the way of a great story… Harper and his admirable fiancée are characters who could well go on to be permanent fixtures in the calendar of period crime fiction.”
Publishers Weekly review:
“A gas workers’ strike cripples Leeds in Nickson’s strong first in a new Victorian series. As the police prepare to cope with the controversial arrival of non-union replacement workers, Insp. Tom Harper learns that eight-year-old Martha Parkinson is missing. When the girl’s father, Col, claims that she’s visiting an aunt, Harper soon discovers that no such woman exists. Meanwhile, Col is found hanging from a ceiling beam in his cottage, an apparent suicide. The entire police force is needed to help contain the chaos created by the strike, limiting Harper’s time on the Parkinson case. But when a replacement worker is murdered by a pair of sinister strangers also seen with Col, Harper realizes that the mysteries may be connected. Nickson, whose Richard Nottingham series (Fair and Tender Ladies, etc.) depicts Leeds in the early 18th century, evokes the 1890 city with accuracy and color. Solidly characterized protagonists with interesting vulnerabilities are a plus.”
From the review in Kirkus Reviews:
“What he finds will shake Leeds to its foundations. Although Nickson’s tales of Richard Nottingham (Fair and Tender Ladies, etc.) take place more than 100 years earlier, Harper faces the same disturbing inequalities in this police procedural with a social conscience.”
From the Booklist review:
“Solidly plotted and smartly paced, with intriguing period details of 1890s England and vivid characters, this is an entertaining and thoroughly engaging procedural.”
From the Euro Crime review:
“The feel of the book is somewhat similar to Nickson’s earlier books, with the back story of Tom and his relationship with his wife to be, and his professional relationship with his juniors, and with his senior commanding officer. And there is a bit of necessary negotiating to do with the leader of the local union, to help the plot along. It’s interesting to see a more modern updated Leeds, with the little bits of local history thrown in. If you liked the original series of Chris Nickson books, you’ll like this one, even perhaps a little more.”
Given the political nature of the book, I was very happy at this review from Leeds Socialist Party.
“Chris Nickson, does a great job is recreating the atmosphere of the strike…also skilfully captures the atomosphere of Leeds of the19th Century, with its slum housing and courts and the domination of the city by the tailoring trades at this time.”
Read the whole piece here.
From the Historical Novel Society:
“The Nottingham mysteries are excellent, and I wondered if a change of century and characters would blunt Nickson’s dexterity. I shouldn’t have worried. The characterization is engaging, the historical detail immersive without devolving into scholarship, the mystery pacing competent – in short, a winning and promising debut for a new series. The same element of high-level corruption that’s often a theme in his other mysteries makes an appearance, although in this offering Nickson has eschewed his penchant for killing off main characters in manners angsty enough for the reader to feel she needs a hug. So far, this series has a somewhat brighter tone, and I’m curious to see how it will progress. I look forward to seeing Tom Harper again in his next outing.”