An Excerpt From Brass Lives

It’s just four weeks until Brass Lives, the ninth Tom Harper novel, is published. Set in 1913, it features Davey Mullen, who was born in Leeds but moved to New York as a child. Now 21, he’s a gangster, a killer, recuperating from an ambush in Manhattan, where he was shot 11 times and left for dead.

Mullen – based on a real figure, Owen Madden – is supposedly back to visit his father, who remained in Leeds. The New York police have warned Leeds, and Tom, now Deputy Chief Constable, has uniforms tailing Mullen. But he’s still surprised when the man shows up at the Victoria one night…

He’d finished his supper and poured the last cup of tea from the pot when Dan the barman came up the stairs to the parlour.

‘I’m sorry to bother you, Tom, but there’s a man downstairs asking for you.’

            That was unusual; people rarely sought him out at home. ‘Not one of my lot, is it?’ he asked. Maybe they’d found Fess. No, couldn’t be, Harper thought; they’d have telephoned.

            ‘This one’s definitely not a copper.’ Dan frowned. ‘You ask me, he’s got the smell of crime about him. Young and big. Talks strange, too. Like he’s from Leeds but with something else on top that I don’t recognize.’

            Harper gave a grim smile. Mullen had decided to come to the Victoria.

            ‘Thanks, Dan. I’ll be down in a minute.’

            Annabelle was watching him. ‘You know who it is, don’t you?’

            ‘I can take a good guess. It’s that man I told you about, the one from New York. Mullen.’

            ‘The one who’s killed people.’

            ‘Yes.’

            ‘Here. In my pub.’ She glared and started to rise.

            ‘Give me a minute before you come down,’ he asked. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he doesn’t cause any trouble.’

            ‘He’d better not.’

            Mullen was sitting at a table with his back to the wall, a pint of beer in front of him. He had the handsome, dark Irish looks that he’d shown in his police photograph, wearing an expensive grey suit that fitted him flatteringly, with a soft collared shirt and a brilliant red silk tie fastened with a gold pin. Flaunting his money in his clothes.

            He sat with his legs crossed, shining black shoes catching the light, looking at faces and assessing their eyes for danger as Harper settled across from him.

            ‘You’re safe enough in here. From the customers, at least.’

            A dip of the head in acknowledgement.

            ‘This must be different from the places you’re used to at home,’ Harper said.

            Mullen grinned and showed his good, even teeth. ‘A bar’s a bar, doesn’t matter where you put it. Sláinte.’ He took a long drink of bitter. ‘I’ll tell you this, though: the Americans have a long way to go before they can brew beer like the English.’ He stared at the glass. ‘And Leeds is home, after a fashion.’

            ‘Some parts of it might be. But not this place. What brings you out here?’ Harper’s voice was sharper, his face hard.

            ‘A man told me that you lived above a public house. I was curious to take a look and see what kind of deputy chief constable would do that. Anyway, it’s only a short stroll from Somerset Street.  Perfect for a summer’s evening.’

            Harper saw the man’s gaze shift and his smile broaden.

            ‘This is the woman who owns the public house,’ he said.

            ‘Mrs Harper.’ Mullen stood. For the briefest moment, he looked awkward and self-conscious, as if he wasn’t quite sure how to act around a woman. ‘A pleasure to meet you. You have a very welcoming pub here.’

            She sat, never taking her eyes off him. ‘Are you enjoying your visit to England, Mr Mullen?’

            ‘I am, ma’am. I’m enjoying being back and seeing my father again.’ Dan was right, Harper thought; there was still a definite trace of Leeds in his voice, somewhere deep in the bedrock. But much of it had been overlaid by the nasal New York cockiness. ‘I got to say, it’s changed a lot in ten years.’

            ‘How is your father?’ Harper asked, as if he hadn’t seen a report on Francis Mullen just the day before. The man spent the better part of his time drunk. He’d been kicked out of two beershops for trying to start fights.

            ‘Happy to see me,’ Mullen replied after a moment.

            ‘I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s another American in Leeds at the moment. Someone called Louis Fess. He’s from New York, too. Maybe you know him.’

            He’d dropped the name drop to see Mullen’s reaction. It was a pleasure to watch the way his face shifted: anger first, then worry, and finally a snapped-on grin of bravado. All in the course of a second or two. Interesting; he hadn’t known that Fess was here.

            Mullen ran a hand down his jacket, smoothing the material. ‘No,’ he said, ‘it don’t mean anything.’

            Maybe that worked on the American police, but it wouldn’t fool any copper in Leeds. He knew exactly who Fess was, and he wasn’t pleased to hear the name. No surprise, since he was from a rival gang.

            ‘A suggestion,’ Harper said as the man drained the rest of his pint in a single swallow. ‘Actually, it’s more like an order. You’re going to take out that gun very carefully and leave it with me.’

            ‘Why?’ The man’s body stiffened, as if he was preparing for a fight.

            ‘First of all, you spent a lot of money on that suit and it’s ruining the cut. It’s also illegal under the 1903 Pistols Act. Do you have a licence for the weapon?’

            ‘I didn’t know I needed one.’

            It was a lie, it showed in his eyes. He wanted to be challenged.

            ‘If the barrel is shorter than nine inches, the law says that you do. Since you’re a visitor here, we’ll let that pass as long as you leave the weapon here.’

            For a moment, Mullen didn’t move and Harper could feel the tension grow around him. Then he reached into his pocket, brought out the gun with the barrel between his fingers and placed it on the table.

            ‘Satisfied?’

            ‘For now. Thank you.’

            The outside door opened and Mary entered, waving before she disappeared upstairs.

            ‘Is that your daughter? Mary, right?

            Annabelle turned her head to stare into his eyes. ‘I tell you what, luv, now it’s my turn to make a suggestion.’ Her voice was iron. ‘Only mine’s an order, too. You’re going to forget you ever knew her name, or that you saw her. And if you show your face in here again, I’ll bounce you out on to Roundhay Road by the seat of your fancy trousers before you can say Jack Robinson.’ She stalked away.

            Mullen glared but said nothing. Harper watched as the man stifled his anger. No one would dare talk to him like that in America; he’d tear them apart for the sport of it. But New York was half a world away. He was in Leeds now. The rules were different and he was powerless.

            ‘I think your wife has taken against me.’

            ‘Very perceptive, Mr Mullen. There are plenty of other places to drink in town. You’d do better in one of those. I’m sure you can find your way back to where you’re staying. The Metropole, isn’t it?’ He stood. ‘I’ll wish you goodnight.’

            The constable following Mullen was standing outside the Victoria, watching his quarry stride furiously away. Harper stood next to him. ‘Make sure you don’t let him out of your sight.’

Brass Lives is published in hardback in the UK on June 24 (7 September in the US). You can pre-order it here (cheapest price and free postage). Prefer ebooks? Here’s the Kindle link (available worldwide August 1)

If you’re on NetGalley and authorised for Severn house releases, you can find it here.

Some Bright News In Dark Times

Even in the brief flurry of sunshine and warmth we’re experiencing in Leeds right now, I know the days are dark. It doesn’t matter where you live. In Seattle, where I spent many years, it’s literally dark and choking with the smoke from the fires up and down the coast and father inland. You’ve probably seen the photos from California and Oregon, where the world looks like part of the apocalypse.

It’s hard not to be downhearted and depressed. I find solace in escaping to my allotment, where nothing else can touch me and I live simply doing the jobs in front of me (this week, stripping the borlotti beans – there are a lot this years, it seems!) and taking down the vice, before preparing that bed for winter. After that, pick blackberries and the rest of the apples. There’s a sense of order, of continuity in it all that makes me happy.

But I do have some more sunshine this week. First to bring you up to speed. The third Simon Westow novel will be published in the UK at the end of December. It’s called To The Dark, and yes, it’s dark indeed. For some reason, it’s not showing up to pre-order on Amazon. However, good independent shops will be glad to take your order, or there’s Speedy Hen, which has the lowest price I’ve seen and free postage. Look here.

What’s it about? I’m glad you asked: The city is in the grip of winter, but the chill deepens for thief-taker Simon Westow and his young assistant, Jane, when the body of Laurence Poole, a petty local thief, emerges from the melting snow by the river at Flay Cross Mill. A coded notebook found in Laurence’s room mentions Charlie Harker, the most notorious fence in Leeds who’s now running for his life, and the mysterious words: To the dark. What was Laurence hiding that caused his death? Simon’s hunt for the truth pits him against some dangerous, powerful enemies who’ll happily kill him in a heartbeat – if they can.

The middle of 2021 will bring Brass Lives, the ninth Tom Harper novel, set in 1913. It features a boy from Quarry Hill in Leeds who went to New York when he was 10 to join his mother. More than a decade on and he’s come back to see his father. Over in America he’s made a reputation as a gangster and a killer. The problem is that death has followed him to Leeds. It’s inspired by Owen ‘Owney’ Madden, whose true story is well worth reading. One of the few in his line of work who retired and lived to a ripe age.

And now….drum roll.

I’ve signed a deal for a fourth Simon Westow, tentatively titled The Blood Covenant, set in 1823. Very likely to appear at the end of 2021 in the UK. And also A Dark Steel Death, the 10th (!) Tom Harper novel, which is set in 1917, and probably out in the middle of 2022 – assuming we’re all alive them.

And no, I won’t tell you more about them. You’ll have to wait.

2022…I’m not even sure I can think that far ahead. But I have to now.

A Tale Begins…Some New Tom Harper

Stories…we’re humans, we need stories. And in uncertain, anxious times, something to take us away from our fears and ourselves is always welcome.

Here’s a brief exceprt from what will be the next Tom Harper novel. It’s called Brass Lives, and it’s set to appear sometime in 2021. Sorry, with publishing schedules all topsy-turvy, I can be more exact than that at the moment.

It takes place in 1913 and Tom is now the Deputy Chief Constable of Leeds, with an office at the Town Hall. Ash has become a Superintendent and taken over Millgarth.

Before we get to that, though: my publisher has Gods of Gold, the first Tom Harper novel, currently at 82p/99c an all ebook formats, everywhere in the world. But only until the end of May. You might enjoy it, and at that price you can take a risk.

Secondly, I’ve written a short history of Sheepscar. No fiction, all fact. If you’d like a copy, drop me a line and I’ll send it to you in a pdf file.

Now, would you like to catch up with Tom?

 

He’d been back in his office for an hour, sipping a mug of tea and reading the daily reports from the divisions when the telephone rang.

‘Morning, sir. It’s Superintendent Ash.’ The familiar voice made him smile. Until Harper’s promotion, the two of them had worked together every day. Then Ash had taken over A Division and moved up in rank to run the station.

He knew the man; Ash wouldn’t ring unless there was a good reason.

‘Good morning to you, too. What can I do for you?’

‘Something that might strike your fancy, sir,’ Ash replied after a moment. ‘I don’t suppose you’d like your dinner at the cafe in the market, would you?’

‘I imagine you could twist my arm,’ Harper said. ‘Your shout?’

‘Of course, sir. Between one thing and another, I don’t believe I’ve ever had a free lunch with you yet.’

He walked, glad of the exercise on a warm day. Briggate was thronged with Thursday shoppers crowding the pavements. Trams and lorries and carts bustled up and down the road. Harper cut through County Arcade, astonished as ever at its elaborate gilt and splendour, before crossing Vicar Lane, entering Kirkgate Market and climbing the stairs to the café on the balcony.

Ash was waiting at a table. He’d always been a big man, but now he looked broader than ever, the shaggy moustache over his top lip as grey as his hair. His face crinkled into a grin and he stood, hand extended.

‘Thank you for coming, sir. I hope you don’t mind, I went ahead and ordered; I know you like the cottage pie here.’

‘That’s fine,’ Harper said, and it was. ‘What’s so important? Something wrong at Millgarth?’

The station would always have a special place in his heart. It was home.

‘Nothing like that, sir. Something a little unusual, though.’

‘What is it?’

Ash held a letter in his hand, written on thin onionskin paper.

‘This arrived from America, sir. From the police in New York.’

That was enough to pique his curiosity.’ What do they want?’

‘It appears that one of their criminals is on his way here. I suppose he’s probably arrived now.’ Ash stopped and pinched his lips together. ‘He’s coming back here, that is. It seems he grew up in Leeds, moved to America when he was ten years old. Followed his mother. She went ahead and got herself settled.’

‘Go on,’ he said.

‘His name’s Davey Mullen. Born on Somerset Street.’ It was no more than three minutes’ walk from where they were sitting, a row of run-down, hopeless houses. ‘He’s twenty-one now.’

Harper rubbed his chin. ‘What’s he done to make them write to us?’

Ash grimaced and shifted on his seat. ‘It’s more like what hasn’t he done, sir. Quite a bit, given his age. It took me by surprise.’ He paused, just long enough to be sure of Harper’s attention. ‘They’re as certain as they can be that Mullen’s murdered at least six people.’ He let the sentence hang in between them in the air. ‘Four of them shot, the other two beaten to death. And two of those shootings were in broad daylight, with witnesses.’

‘Then surely-’ he began, then stopped when he saw the look in Ash’s eyes.

‘The witnesses decided to leave the city or refused to testify.’

Harper sighed. The old, old story. Fear and intimidation.

‘Why’s he coming here?’

‘Recuperation. That’s what he told people. He’s a member of a gang. It seems some people from another gang found him on his own outside a dancehall and shot him eleven times.’

‘Eleven?’ Harper said in disbelief. ‘Come on. Nobody can survive that.’

‘He did, and he made a full recovery. He refused to tell the police who did it, but not long after he was back on his feet the bodies of some of this other gang started turning up. Now he’s heading to Leeds until things cool down in New York.’

‘What do they want us to do?’ Harper asked. ‘They don’t have a warrant for him, do they?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Then unless he breaks any laws here, he’s a free man.’

‘They’re tipping us the wink so we can keep an eye on him. His other reason for being here is to see his father. It seems he never made the trip to America with the rest of the family. It was just Mullen and his brother who followed their mother over there.’

‘What’s the father’s name?’

‘Francis Mullen. Goes by Franny. I had Sergeant Mason dig out his file. There’s not much to him, really. Petty crook, in and out of jail. Loves his drink. Never held a proper job in his life. Parents came over from Ireland during the famine.’ He shrugged and took a photograph from his pocket. ‘The New York people included this, sir. It’s Mullen, from the last time they arrested him.’

Harper studied the picture. It showed the man’s head, viewed full on. Thick, dark hair, glistening with pomade. A smile of straight, white teeth and a face brimming with arrogance, a young man utterly certain that the world belonged to him. On the back, someone had scribbled a few details: Mullen was a big man: six feet one, weight two hundred and ten pounds – fifteen stone, he calculated – carrying sixteen scars all over his body from knives and bullets. The next of kin was his mother Maureen. Mullen still lived with her, an address on West 47th Street. Behind it, in brackets, someone had added Hell’s Kitchen. An apt name for any neighbourhood that was home to a man like him.

The waitress arrived with two full plates.

‘They’re hot, so don’t you be burning yourselves,’ she warned. ‘I’ll be back in a tick with your pot of tea.’

No talking shop while they ate; that was the rule. No spoiling the digestion. It allowed a few minutes for pleasure, a pause for thought. A constant roar of noise rose from the market, the conversation of shoppers, traders calling out their wares. Finally, Harper wiped a slice of bread around the plate to soak up the last of the juices, swallowed the final bite and washed it down with a swig of tea.

‘What did you have in mind for Mullen?’ he asked.

‘I thought Walsh and Galt could pay him a visit,’ Ash replied. ‘Just a quiet word, let him know his card is marked. Polite as a Sunday tea party.’

‘The slightest breath of trouble, haul him in,’ Harper ordered. ‘We don’t want any murderers walking round Leeds like they’re God’s gift. Keep a uniform on him too.’

‘Not plain clothes?’

‘No, let’s make it blatant. We’ll show him he’s not welcome here.’

‘I’ll take care of it, sir.’

‘Anything else worthwhile?’

‘Nothing much. Just the Boys of Erin trying to act up again.’

They’d been a growing thorn in the side of the police for a year, ever since Johnny Dempster became leader of the gang. Harper thought he’d crushed them more than twenty years ago, but they were slowly creeping back. They wanted to be a force again, to rule the Bank the way they had a generation before. It was the area of Leeds where the Irish had settled when they arrived. Back then it was desperately poor, dirty, a place where disease thrived. Even now it was bleak. Annabelle had grown up there, on Leather Street. Many still living on the Bank today could trace their ancestors back to Ireland.

‘What have they been doing this time?’

‘Tried a little protection on shopkeepers. We’ve taken care of it. I’m keeping a watch on them. Dempster’s ambitious. I’ve a feeling he has big plans.’

‘Time to stamp them down again?’ Harper asked.

‘Not just yet, sir,’ Ash replied thoughtfully. ‘I want to see what they have in mind.’

‘Keep me informed.’ He stood and patted his belly. They always served up big helpings in the cafe. ‘And make sure this Mullen knows he’s being followed.’