The 1930s Return, Leeds Style – The Dead On Leave

I was shocked and very pleasantly surprised by how many of you read an extract from my upcoming book last week. Right, I thought, maybe they fancy a bit more…

It’s’ 1936, and the Depression has hit Leeds hard. Oswald Mosley has brought his Blackshirts to town, and they’ve been chased off from Holbeck Moor with their tails between their legs by 30,000 Lioners. But there’s a body left behind, and Detective Sergeant Urban Raven has to find his way through the fog of politics and sorrow to discover who the killer might be.

The Dead On Leave is out in paperback on June 18, £7.99

The first man stood on his step and listened as Raven told him about the murder. He was in his sixties, with a shock of pure white hair and a thick moustache the colour of nicotine stains, with deep lines etched into his face. He spat out onto the cobbles, said, ‘About bloody time,’ and closed the door.

The next name was three houses further along Kepler Grove. A young fellow this time, with bulging frog eyes and a bouncing Adam’s apple. He looked downcast at the news, but nothing more. The same at the next few addresses. No grief. No one here was going to miss Frank Benson.

Round the corner on Gledhow Place, a man named Galloway cradled his infant daughter, heard what the sergeant had to say, then snorted.

‘You know what he was like?’ the man asked and Raven shook his head. ‘A real sod, that’s what. He’d dock you for owt. Reckoned he was God an’ all.’

‘What do you mean?’

Galloway tucked the girl’s head against his shoulder, tenderly stroking her hair.

‘About a month back, I were expecting him round. He didn’t even knock, just opened the front door and barged right in like he owned the place, looking around, checking in the cupboards and asking if there was any change in my circumstances. No how do you do, no by your leave, no respect. I told him to get hisself right out again. “My wife could have been washing at the sink, you bugger,” I said. I picked up the poker and waved it at him. That got him back outside right quick and tapping politely. “Any change in things?” he asked when I let him in. “Aye,” I said. “For the worse.” He took a glance in the pantry, and when he was leaving, he told me, “I won’t forget this.” He didn’t, neither. Someone told him I’d been making a little repairing boots and they stopped my relief. Five weeks. Still got three to go. Benson relished telling me, too.’

‘You realise you’ve just made yourself a suspect,’ Raven said, and Galloway shrugged.

‘Arrest me, then. At least you’d have to feed me in jail.’

‘Where were you yesterday?’

‘Right here. Where the hell else would I be?’

‘You’re in the clear, then.’ Not that he suspected the man; Galloway was far too open, his heart showing loud and bright on his sleeve.

He heard similar tales at other houses. Family members who’d been forced to move into lodgings because they were working and their income would cut assistance to the others.

‘The truth is that half of them haven’t moved at all, of course.’ He sat in the scullery of a house on Anderson Mount, a wooden rack in front of the range with clothes drying slowly. Ernie Haynes was a member of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. Thoughtful, soft spoken, in his fifties, he seemed to have given up on the idea of ever having a job again. There were plenty more in the same boat. The unemployable. ‘They stay out all the hours they can then sneak home to eat and sleep. Benson liked to try and catch them. As if it was a game.’

‘No one seems to have a good word for him.’

‘How can you, for someone like that?’ Haynes wondered.


boar lane 30s

‘None of them even said “poor man”,’ Noble told him as they drove back into town, along Mabgate and past the mills and factories that stood empty and forlorn. Rubbish lined the roads; no one cared. ‘Not an ounce of sympathy.’

‘He didn’t seem to have much of that himself.’

‘He’s dead, though.’

‘We all will be some day,’ Raven said. ‘That doesn’t guarantee respect.’

‘It seems wrong, that’s all.’

It was the way of the world. Nothing more. People spoke ill of the living, the dead, of everyone. They enjoyed it. Some revelled in it.

In the office, he passed Mortimer the list, telling him what they’d learned and watching him grimace.

‘We’ll need to get the bobbies onto the rest,’ Raven said. ‘There are far too many for us.’

The inspector nodded and took a piece of paper from the top of a pile.

‘The post-mortem report. Benson was strangled. Whoever it was stood behind him to do it.’

Raven thought of the thin red line on the man’s throat.

‘What did they use?’ he asked. ‘Could the doctor tell?’

‘An electrical flex, he says. He found some of that fabric they put around the wire in the wound. There was some under Benson’s fingernails, too. He must have been trying to pull the cord away from his throat.’ He shuddered. ‘Bloody awful way to go.’

It was. Slow, knowing you were going to die. It didn’t matter how many shades of a bastard Benson had been in his job, that was a terrible death.


Leeds 30s_2

The inspector drove as if it made him uncomfortable. He was wary, slow, too cautious by half. Going through Sheepscar, they passed a group of men in old clothes standing around a fire in a metal barrel on a corner, nowhere better to go.

‘The dead on leave,’ Mortimer said, so softly he could have been talking to himself.

‘What, sir?’

‘Something my wife heard on the wireless.’ He gave a quick smile and a shake of his head. ‘Someone was talking about all the unemployed. Said they were like the dead on leave. It struck me, that’s all.’

It was good, Raven had to agree. But it wasn’t just those without jobs. What about the fools and the cuckolds? They lived in that same sad, shifting world, too.

He glanced up the hill to Little London. That was what they called the area, but none of the streets were paved with gold. Instead, plenty of the cobbles were missing and fully half the houses were slums. Dilapidated, in need of knocking down, like so much of Leeds. Happen somebody would drag the whole city into the twentieth century before it was halfway over.

Early Reviews…And Listen To Annabelle Speak

It’s’ just over a week until The Tin God is published. I’m hugely proud of this book, it feels as if it’s taken on greater resonance that the crime story I set out to tell – but readers will judge that more objectively than I ever can, of course.

I’m pushing this book hard. Among other things, there’s going to be a blog tour to coincide with publication, and that includes giving away a copy of the novel. So please, keep your eyes on the blogs listed below or follow on Twitter.

Meanwhile…here are a few reactions from early reviewers:

“Chris Nickson is an amazingly skilful author with a love of Leeds, its varied and deep history, and demonstrates it with each book he writes.”

“The whole story has such resonance with today’s current affairs that it makes you realise how much there is still to do regarding social attitudes, as well as how far we have come.”

“I like the strong sense of characterisation in the novels. Annabelle is a suffragette, looking to make things easier for her daughter, Mary, in her path through life. She is, however, no airy fairy dilettante being strong, capable and practical with her feet planted squarely on the ground. I cheer at her every move. She is supported in her efforts by her husband, Tom…He is another strong character. He’s not as enthusiastic about being Superintendent as he might be as the paperwork and meetings take him away from investigative work but this threat to his wife and family gives him the opportunity to roll his sleeves up and get stuck in.”

“There’s a particular talent here with this author’s fine-tuned ability to thread actual historical events into his fiction. This one is quite thought-provoking in reflecting upon those who initially paved the way for women’s rights and those, yet today, who stand tall in the face of current roadblocks. This still grows curiouser and curiouser…”

“The author Chris Nickson is Leeds born (as am I ) and it’s clear that he loves his home city and its place in history, as one of the leading lights of industry. He brings the Leeds of 1897 very much to life both in terms of actual historical events of the time and in the sights, sounds, and smells of this great city. I really enjoyed this particular storyline as it demonstrated the struggle that women had, ( and some would say, still have) to be recognised and valued as legitimate candidates for office, and to be considered equal to men.

I make no bones about it – I love Chris Nickson’s books – love Tom and Annabelle – love the sense of old Leeds with its cobbled streets, the houses huddled together against the chill whipping off the River Aire, the friendly community, and the good old fashioned policing.”

“I always enjoy the sense of period that Mr Nickson evokes and The Tin God is no different. Annabelle’s campaign speeches resound with the possibility of change but don’t ignore the terrible blight of poverty prevalent in the fictional Sheepscar ward.”

And with that mention of Annabelle’s campaign speeches, through the miracle of technology (and the superb voicing of Carolyn Eden), I’ve been able to find one. Take a listen and see if it convinces you….

After that, wouldn’t you vote for Mrs. Annabelle Harper?

annabelle election poster texture

Perhaps you need to discover The Tin God for yourself. I know an author who’d be very grateful…it’s out March 30 in the UK.


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.

What and How, And Especially Why

To all those who logged on Sunday for what was should have the world’s first streamed book launch, my sincere apologies. It ought to have happened. We had video – but the audio let everyone down. It was fine at soundcheck, it was fine an hour later. But on broadcast? Not a peep of sound.

I don’t know why. I tried everything I could, but nothing worked. But people stuck around, and we ended up with Two Bronze Pennies having what was certainly the world’s first book launch by instant messaging.

But…I still felt bad about it. So I sat down and made a little movie about the book. What caused me to write it, and how the world today all too often seems to sadly reflect the world of 1890. What a short, short way we’ve come.

It’s not long, only about six minutes. Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and sit down. Let me entertain you – and maybe make you think a bit. Oh, and if you really can’t get enough, further down is a link to a longer extract. And you can, if course, buy the book and read the whole thing. I certainly won’t mind if you do…

And this place offers free delivery worldwide:

A Newsletter?

I’m considering having a quarterly newsletter that I’d send out to everyone and anyone who wanted to subscribe. There’d be news of upcoming books (two coming in the first three months of 2015, for instance) and events, as well as reviews of those recently published, and possibly even a little short fiction (very short).

I mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook and a number of people seemed interested. If you’d like to start getting a copy (I think the first one would arrive in December), let me have your email address, please, and I’ll set it in motion.

Thank you.

Gods of Gold Book Launch

The launch for Gods of Gold is happening on Thursday, September 11, from 6.45-8pm. It’s at the Leeds Library, the oldest subscription library in Britain, and in its present location since 1808.

It’s a wonderful place, and I feel very lucky to be having an event there again. There’s going to be wine and cake, and the library has promised to have newspapers (and possibly artefacts) relation to the 1890 Leeds Gas Strike – which forms the backdrop to the book – on display. And yes, the workers won!

Everyone is welcome, and I hope you’ll come, but you will need to reserve a place. Call the Library on (0113) 245 3071 or email

Last time I was there, it was packed, and I hope it will be again. There will be copies of the book on sale, of course, as well as just a few Gods of Gold tee shirts.

Come on along.

gog finalx

A Writing Course In The Country

I’ve been asked to teach a weekend course this September – it’s a weekend, the 21st-22nd – at a lovely B&B in the Lake District. I’ll be covering historical fiction, sessions on setting time and place, integrating the history, creating living, breathing characters and more. There will be one-one-one sessions, time for your own writing, and more.

It’s limited to just 10 places, so booking early is very likely a good idea (I hope).

Details at:

Talking West Seattle Blues

In just over a month, my next book, West Seattle Blues, will be coming out. It’s the second in my Seattle trilogy, and I’m every bit as proud of it as anything else I’ve published. The sad thing – certainly to me – is that the first volume, Emerald City, received scant attention. Yes, I tried the Seattle Times, but they weren’t interested, because it was only published as an ebook and audiobook. Doing it that way, and working with digital publishers Creative Content, was my decision (I did actually have another offer on the table).


I might not have lived in Seattle since 2005 (or America, for that matter), but I have great affection for the city, especially West Seattle, where I spent a total of 11 years. When I left, it was very different to the place I originally saw. Doubtless, it’s changed again.

I’m very proud that Gary Heffern, a name familiar to everyone in Seattle music circles, agreed to sing the song West Seattle Blues, which will be an extra on the ebook. As always, he did an incredible job, and I feel honoured that he was willing to do this.

Anyway, I’d like to whet your appetites with a three things. First, a short extract from the novel, then the audio trailer, and finally, a Spotify playlist to go with the book (which I’m not really making public until closer to publication date, so keep it to yourselves, k?). Ready? Okay, here we go—and remember, it’s out at the end of June.


He had a voice like a country song: a lifetime of heartbreak and failed promises in just four words. It was a sound like old leather that had been soaked in bourbon or rye.

“This is Carson Mack,” he announced.

I explained who I was, hearing his breathing on the other end of the line.

“I remember hearing your stuff on the radio, back in the day,” I continued.

“Yeah, I was all over that for a little while.” He gave a hoarse, world-weary chuckle.

“Tonia said you were thinking about a book?”

“I don’t know what I’m thinking, really,” Carson admitted. “It just seemed like an idea. I figured there might be someone at The Rocket who’d have a few ideas.”

I tried to be kind.“The only problem is those hits were a long time ago. Most people won’t know who you are now.”

“I’m trying to do a bit more now. And a book would be a good way for people to find out, right?”

“Yeah,” I agreed warily. “But a book’s only worthwhile if someone wants to publish it.”

“I guess. So you’re trying to tell me it’s a bullshit idea, huh?”

“I’m saying that a book might not be the easiest place to start. Music’s changed in twenty years.” All music had, including country. Now it all seemed to be guys in cowboy hats, or girls who looked like truck stop waitresses with a sideline in hooking. And the songs had more to do with pop music that any country stuff I ever knew.

“I know. I listen nowadays and I’m not even sure what’s going on.”

“Look, Carson,” I said, “how about this? Why don’t we start off by doing a piece for The Rocket and see how that goes? It’s a place to begin.

“You sure they want one? I don’t want charity.”

“I’m sure, they’ll print it.” I hoped they would, anyway.

“Okay,” he agreed, sounding happier. “You want to come over here and talk to me?”

“I can do that. Whereabouts are you?”

“I got a place on Beach Drive in West Seattle. You know where that is?”

“I do.” If he could afford a house down there, he must have written a few hits. It was right on Puget Sound, where the water lapped against the bottom of the gardens. Just the year before, I’d been to see a one-bedroom house along there, one in need of plenty of TLC before it would even be habitable. The asking price was over three hundred thousand and yet it had sold in a week. I loved the idea of living by the water but I knew that it was a dream. I’d never have the money for it.

And the audio book trailer – video is coming in a couple of weeks:

Finally, the Spotify playlist (shhh!):

West Seattle Blues

And please, tell me what you think…