On Being Cheap

I’m cheap. Well, of course I am, I come from Yorkshire; it’s in my DNA. And it’s quite true, I never pay more for something that necessary. I shop around. I’m unlikely to ever be a John Lewis customer.

That said, I do prefer to buy from independent shops, or those that pay their full whack of taxes. Things being what they were, though, sometimes a bargain from elsewhere can be too good to refuse.

Right now – and I don’t know how long it will last – a couple of my books are very cheap on Amazon.

The Tin God is a little over £2 on Amazon, both in hardback and for Kindle. It costs less that I can for my coffee at La Botega Milanese when I go into town. And, much as I like their coffee, a book lasts longer. This is one of my favourites, as Annabelle Harper becomes such a central character, and it reflects the local politics of the time – and the way women struggled for the vote. The offer is only in the UK (sorry) and you can find it here.

The Hanging Psalm is also cheap, although, costing more than £4 in both formats, it not quite as much of a bargain. But that price for a hardback? I’m astonished. Here is the page.

I don’t know who’s behind it, whether it’s Amazon or my publisher. But if you’ve been thinking of buying, I doubt there will be a better time. I have no idea how long the prices will last.

The Hanging Psalm is the first Simon Westow book. The second, called The Hocus Girl, comes out at the end of next month. It features undercover government agents (based on a true story from the period – nothing changes), Joshua Tetley about to open his brewery, a real-life female preacher, and the world’s first locomotive able to carry loads. It’s currently available to order for £15.66 right here – definitely the cheapest price around.

Time to go back to being personally cheap…

Hocus Girl final

A Christmas Book Guide

It never hurts to have a handy book guide, does it, especially with Christmas drawing closer and all those presents to buy.

So…I thought it best to put all of mine in order for you. You never know, you might have missed one along the way.

Okay, this is done in a light-hearted manner. I hope you will buy family/friends/yourself books for Christmas. I’ll be especially happy if one of two of them are mine. But whoever penned them, books make great gifts, and reading is one of the most wonderful things you can do.

Please, enjoy yourself and remember, you can collect the whole set.


Richard Nottingham Books

Historical crime set in Leeds in the 1730s, and featuring Richard Nottingham, the Constable of the town (and that was the constable’s name at the time).

The Broken Token – long out of print, still available as ebook and audiobook. I do have two used                            paperback copies for £3 each, plus postage.

Cold Cruel Winter

The Constant Lovers

Come the Fear

At the Dying of the Year

Fair and Tender Ladies

All of these are available as ebooks, some still in print as hardback, and Fair and Tender Ladies can also be bought as a trade paperback.

Tom Harper Books

Crime novels, Victorian Leeds, with a touch of politics and Detective Inspector Harper’s forthright wife, Annabelle, the landlady of the Victoria public house in Sheepscar.

Gods of Gold

Two Bronze Pennies

Skin Like Silver

All available in hardback and ebook (Skin only in hardback at present). Gods of Gold is also available in trade paperback.

John the Carpenter

Chesterfield in the 1360s. Intrigue, murder, and a carpenter who’s more use to the coroner as an investigator than working with wood.

The Crooked Spire

The Saltergate Psalter

Both available in paperback and ebook

Dan Markham

Enquiry agent Dan Markham finds himself out of his depth in 1950s Leeds noir. Death with a jazz soundtrack.

Dark Briggate Blues

Available in paperback and ebook.

Laura Benton

Seattle music journalist whose passions end up taking her down some dark, unexpected paths. And yes, I was a music journalist in Seattle for several years.

Emerald City

West Seattle Blues

Both available on ebook and audiobook. No print editions.

Leeds, The Biography

Not quite history, this is the road less travelled, the history of the place told in short stories that take place between 300 AD and 1963. My first non-crime book.

Leeds, The Biography: A History of Leeds in Short Stories

Available in paperback and ebook.

Tales Within A Tale 7 – A Teaser

Now it’s just four weeks until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s still plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

Read the first Tale within a Tale, about Patrick Martin, here, the second with Robert Carr here, the third with Miss Worthy here, the fourth with Barbabas Tooms here, the fifth with John Laycock here, and the six with Samuel Sugden here.

This time it’s a little different, a short teaser that tells you how the books gets its name.

And, of course, you can read more about Skin Like Silver here.

Like what you see? Order your copy here (this is currently the cheapest price by far!).


Harper stood in the superintendent’s office the next morning. His palms were bandaged and tender but they’d mend in a few days. Annabelle has fussed around him, putting on a lotion that burned before it soothed. He ached all over.

‘I need you down to have a look at that fire,’ Kendall told him. ‘Take Ash with you.’

‘I thought they’d put it out.’

‘They have. I want to make sure it wasn’t anarchists who caused it.’

The man was as immaculately turned-out as ever, suit pressed, moustache and side whiskers trimmed, the crease in his trousers as sharp as a blade. But his face was lined with worry.

‘I thought they were all talk,’ Harper said.

‘They are,’ the superintendent replied. ‘But you know how it happens. All it needs is one hothead taking that “assault on the system” line of theirs to heart.’ He shook his head. ‘Stupid. Work with Dick Hill until he’s established a cause. Just in case.’

‘Yes, sir. I have that dead baby, too.’

‘I know. What have you found?’

‘Nothing.’ He paused, thinking of the tiny corpse on the table. ‘Honestly, I’m not sure if we ever will.’

‘Keep trying, anyway. Your hands, Tom…’

‘From the pumps yesterday.’ He held them up. ‘Blisters. They’ll heal soon enough.’

‘You’d think the criminals would have been running free, what with every officer down there,’ Kendall said. He took his pipe from his waistcoat pocket and lit it with a match. ‘But there was nothing reported.’ He arched his eyebrows. ‘Think about that. Not a single crime anywhere in Leeds.’

There was just enough of a breeze to bring a sense of freshness, the hint that autumn might arrive soon. Harper walked side by side with Ash, the constable quiet as they passed the Corn Exchange. Carts clattered quickly along Duncan Street. Piles of horse dung were flattened on the road. Men ran, pushing barrows piled with goods to deliver. A tram rolled by with the grinding sound of wheels in the iron tracks. The air smelt burnt and dead as they neared the station.

‘How did you like the inspection?’ Harper asked.

‘It was right enough, sir.’ He gave a small grin. ‘My missus thought I looked that smart all dressed up.’

‘Mine made me have a photograph taken wearing it.’

‘They must love the top hats, those women.’ He shook his head and tapped his old bowler. ‘Me, I’m more comfortable in this.’ He paused. ‘I heard one of the firemen died yesterday.’

The inspector nodded. ‘When the platforms collapsed. Nothing anyone could do. They couldn’t even get in to bring the body out.’

‘Sad business, sir.’

They’d become used to working as a team since Reed had left. They functioned well together, although there’d been little to tax them too hard. All the crimes they’d investigated in the last few months had been straightforward. Profit or passion, and a simple matter to find the culprit.

Harper doubted there’d be much for them here, either. He didn’t believe any anarchists were involved. The only problem would come if Hill said the fire was arson.

New Station was filled with rubble and wreckage. Thick dust clung to piles of bricks, and charred wood still smoked lightly. But passengers were already crowding the three undamaged platforms, craning their necks to see all the ruin, and most of the trains were still running. Harper shook his head in amazement; after all the destruction, he wouldn’t have believed it possible. Or safe.

They found Hill down among the arches that had once supported everything. All the surfaces were black with soot, the smell of fire and destruction heavy and cloying, and he started to cough. A yard or two below them, the River Aire rushed by.

‘Hello, Dick,’ Harper said. ‘We’ve been sent down to help.’

Inspector Hill looked haunted. He was still wearing the uniform he’d had on when the blaze began. There were rents along the seams, the blue so covered with dirt that it seemed to have no colour at all. Dark rings lined his eyes.

‘Tom,’ he answered and let out a sigh. ‘We just brought out that man who died. Schofield.’

‘One of yours?’

Hill shook his head. ‘He worked on the one the insurance company engines. The floor just gave way underneath him.’ He stared up at the sky. ‘Ten years and I’ve never seen anything like it. As best as we can guess, he must have crawled forty feet after he fell. Almost made it out, too, poor bugger. It’s a miracle there was only one, really.’

‘Any idea where it started yet, sir?’ Ash broke the silence that grew around them.

‘Oh, we know that.’ Hill pointed to an empty space, nothing left at all. ‘You see that? It used to be Soapy Joe’s warehouse. Packed full of tallow and resin. Tons of the bloody stuff. That’s where it began. And that’s why it burned so hard and long. Once that went up there wasn’t a chance.’

‘What caused it?’ Harper asked.

Hill shrugged. ‘A spark? An accident? Deliberate? There’s not enough left to tell. I wouldn’t even like to guess. The best I’m ever going to be able to say is that it happened. It’s nothing to worry CID, anyway.’

‘The superintendent wondered about anarchists.’

‘I don’t see it.’ He shook his head wearily. ‘Honestly, Tom, I don’t. I’m going to dig around but I don’t think I’ll find any evidence of anything.’

‘You should get some sleep, Dick.’

‘Later.’ Hill brushed the idea away. ‘I need to take care of a few things first. We’ve never had anything as bad as this before in Leeds.’ He waved at hand at the damage. ‘Look at it. It’s going to cost a fortune to rebuild. But the railway’s already had engineers out this morning. Can you believe that?’

‘They want to be making money again,’ Harper said.

‘Sir! Sir!’ The shout echoed off the stone, making them all turn. A fireman was picking his way through the mounds of stone and brick. ‘There’s another body down here. It looks like a woman.’

They ran, scraping their way over the debris. Dust rose around them as they scrambled.

‘Over here,’ the man called. He was standing by a pile of rubble. ‘You can just see her foot over there.’

They gazed. Half a button boot, the leather torn clean away to show bloody flesh. The rest of her was buried under chunks of concrete.

‘Must have collapsed right on top of her,’ Hill said grimly, taking off his uniform jacket. ‘Let’s get this shifted.’

Ash glanced at Harper’s bandaged hands.

‘Will you be all right, sir?’

‘I’ll manage,’ the inspector told him as he stared at the foot.

It took them a quarter of an hour to move everything, sweating and grunting. Blood seeped through Harper’s bandages. He grimaced and worked on.

‘Christ,’ Hill said quietly.

Most of her clothes had burned away. Her hair was gone. She was part-flesh, burned and black. But it was the rest of her that made them draw in their breath. Patches of metal across her body that glinted in the light. Skin like silver: the thought came into his head.

‘What..?’ At first he didn’t even realize he’d spoken.

‘Must have been the girders,’ Hill said. He couldn’t take his eyes off the body. ‘They melted in the heat and the metal dripped down on her.’ He wiped a hand across his mouth. ‘I just hope to God she was already dead.’

Harper took a deep breath and squatted, moving this way and that around the corpse. Only the shape and size of the body and the torn button boot showed she’d once been female. Now… he could scarcely believe what he saw. It was grotesque. A statue of death. He shuddered as he stood again.

‘What the hell was she doing down here?’ he wondered.

For The Last Several Weeks I’ve Been A Woman…

For the last several weeks I’ve been a woman. Well, not in my daily life, but in my writing. I’ve been changing the main character of my Seattle mystery Emerald City into a female. It’s affected every dynamic in the book and made me much more aware of what women go through – and even more so in 1988 when the novel is set – every day. Seattle has always been a progressive city, and it was back then, too, but it’s never been perfect. In some ways the book is a love letter to the city where I lived for 20 years, as well as to its music scene, life and to The Rocket, that most glorious of music papers. But it’s become a love letter with a different edge to it in the rewriting. It’s now back with the publishers, the people who first suggested the sex change, so I’ll be waiting for their reaction and hoping they love what they read. I’ve even started on the follow-up, set six years later, with the first chapter complete (and I don’t plan on continuing it for a while yet). Right now I feel I can breathe again, if only for a few days until I receive a critique on the new Richard Nottingham novel from my most trusted reader. But I need that little space, as my son arrived – from Seattle – for the summer. For a little while I can enjoy him every day.

Going Digital

As some of you will already know, I’ve just signed a contract for a three-book deal. This is wonderful news, of course, and it’ll give me chance to explore the Seattle music scene from the late 80s up to around 2000. The first book, Emerald City, will hopefully appear later this year. What’s particularly interesting is that the novels that will comprise the series – and yes, they’re all mysteries – will all appear as ebooks. I’ve worked with this publisher before; they put out the digital version of The Broken Token and also my John Martyn biography. But I was in the unbelievable and enviable position of having an offer from another publisher, a small press who would have issued the book in both paper and digital formats. So why choose digital only? In part, because it’s the future. More and more people have ebook readers, and that number is only going to grow. It’s handy, portable, and you can carry a staggering library on one. It’s cheaper for the reader and often more attractive. That’s not to say books will fall by the wayside, by any means. I still read more books than ebooks and it’s likely to continue that way for a while. But I also work as a music journalist and I’ve seen the changes wrought by the mp3. So many labels distribute their music to reviewers in that format. Buying music on mp3 is easy, and for most people any difference in sound quality is hardly noticeable. You can burn a disc of it, play it on your computer, transfer it to your mp3 player – it’s amazingly versatile. Ebooks are still a few years behind the mp3 in acceptance, but the statistics are telling. More ebooks are sold than hardbacks, for example. Giving people the chance to look in the book on a site like Amazon allows people to get a taste of what they might be buying. Granted, most magazines and newspapers don’t review ebooks, but libraries carry them now, and mainstream reviews are only a matter of time (with the exception of self-published). It’s growing, and I’m happy to be a part of it. With production costs spiralling, I think a time when we generally see only paper and ebooks of new titles published is just around the corner. And, no small matter, a writer can earn more from ebook sales than from other methods. That’s important to those of us who are scraping by.

A New Year Underway

Perhaps you think that writers don’t work hard, that they jot down a few words and call it day, stopping to laze and enjoy a drink or several. Maybe there are some like that, but I’ve never met any, and hope not took. We tend to be a bunch of real grafters. Especially those who combine fiction writing with other types. It all revolves around deadlines, and in the case of music journalism, those can sometimes be tight. Still, that’s part of the fun, and music remains such an important part of my life…

December and January saw three – yes, three – manuscripts depart from here. A medieval novel is now being sent out to publishers by my agent (yes, it’s crime, but unlike the Leeds books, somewhat gentler), the Seattle novel – now a long novella of almost 50,000 words – is being considered by a small press, and my non-fiction book on Studio One reggae is being considered by an ebook publisher.

That’s a busy start, right? On top of that, Cold Cruel Winter came out as an ebook on January 1 (buy it here), and my new Richard Nottingham novel, The Constant Lovers, will arrive in hardback on the 26th; I’m looking forward to having my author copies this week. America, which has really taken to Cold Cruel Winter of the back of some frankly astonishing reviews, will have to wait until May 1 for publication (although Book Depository in the UK will sell you a copy and not charge you postage). I’ve complete the book trailer for The Constant Lovers, now up on YouTube, and yes, I even did the music. The launch event will be in the Exhibition Room at Leeds Central Library on Tuesday, February 7, 6.30-7.45 pm, and all are welcome, with copies of the book on sale.

That’s all topped by the news that the publishers have accepted the fourth book in the series, Come the Fear. My wonderful editor has gone through it and I’m making my final changes now; it will come out in July, so more on that later. But, even as I plough through those words, I’m writing others – the fifth book in the series, provisionally titled Over the Hills.