Thank You

It’s almost four weeks since The Hanging Psalm was published, three since the launch event. The conventional wisdom is that there’s a two-week window after publication in which to make a splash about a book, something that can be especially important with a new series.

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I’m perhaps luckier than most; with a gap between UK and US publications, I have two of those windows. That said, one isn’t any easier than the other. So many books appear these days, from traditional publishers and independents, that it’s hard to be heard above the noise.

Reviews help. They help beyond compare, especially in these days when we’re all online. But still, the most important is word of mouth. I don’t expect everyone to like my books. Historical crime is niche enough. Leeds historical crime is an even smaller niche. and I certainly don’t expect everyone to like all my books (although I can live in hope).

But, if you do like one, please tell your friends. Ask your local library to stock a copy – most library services will order the book if they don’t already have it. Like every other author, I love people taking my books out of the library. They’re such a vital community resource and they need to be used as much as possible. Read all you want and it costs you nothing. What could be better than that?

There’s also a bonus for writers. Not only do we receive the royalty when the service buys a copy, we receive a small amount whenever someone borrows one of our books, whether a physical or ebook copy. Win-win, truly.

Yes, I want to sell books. I want people to read what I write. That’s why it’s out there. But I depend on people like you. Without you, it all falls apart very quickly.

So I thank you for all you’ve done, and hope I can keep you entertained and make you think for quite a few years yet.

One final thing. If you’re in the UK and haven’t read The Tin God yet (I’m immensely proud of that book, and of Annabelle Harper in it), the hardback is currently £10.07 on Amazon (sorry, US readers). Not my favourite retailer, but if you’re looking to give the feminist in your life a Christmas gift, well…this would definitely fit the ball. Maybe you can see the printing sell out – that would be a great present for me.

But whatever happens, thank you all.

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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.

*

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‘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.

*

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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?

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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.

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On the publication of Free From All Danger

Today, Free From All Danger, the seventh novel to feature Richard Nottingham, the Constable of Leeds in the 1730s is published.

It feels as if I’ve been waiting for this for a long, long time.

In many ways, I have. His last outing, in Fair and Tender Ladies, was more than four years ago. But coming back to him was like visiting a close friend. One who’s older, wearier, who looks at life a little differently.

Richard and I, we knew we had unfinished business. I’d originally planned to have eight books in the series, enough to tell his story properly, to let it unfold. Of course, it’s not simply about him. The books have always been about relationships. With family, with the men who work for him and the people in Leeds. They sit at the heart of it all, just as they do in life.

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It’s a period that’s been sadly unexplored in fiction, especially in mysteries. But in Leeds, it was a decade of change, as the town began to grow fat on the sale of woollen cloth, and the merchants became the men who ran everything. And the poor…stayed poor. More of them, drawn by the chance of making a fortune. But opportunity was a rare thing.

It’s always been the lives of the poor that have interested me. They go unremarked and unremembered. Curiously, even Richard Nottingham, who was a real person, and a privileged one, seems to have left no trace; I’ve been unable to find any mention of his death (or birth, for that matter) in any parish register. If I make readers feel what life was like for those in Leeds at the time, then maybe I’ve done something right.

Of course, I’d love for people to buy the book. But I also understand that hardbacks are outside the price range of many. The ebook will appear on February 1, 2018, when the book is published in America. Or reserve it at your library. If they don’t have it, ask them to order a copy. Honestly, it all helps. If you don’t know the series, they’re waiting out there for you.

Finally, if you’re in Leeds on November 9, come to the book launch. It’s free, of course, a performance piece with a specially-composed soundtrack and a little live music at the end. At The Leeds Library on Commercial Street, 7pm. Email them and reserve a seat, though.

Richard and I both thank you.

Free Time Travel

Books are portals to other places, other times. They possess that fragment of magic to transport a reader, to wrap them in another world.

I hope that’s what I’ve managed with Free From All Danger. To take you to 1736, to walk through Leeds with Richard Nottingham, to see the place through his eyes as he returns as Constable. To hear the noise, smell it all, see the faces…

Some of might have have read the previous six books in the series. The last appeared in 2013, more than four years ago. At the end of the last book, Fair and Tender Ladies, Richard retired.

But things change, live never stands still, and circumstances bring him back. The big question for him is whether he can still do the job…

 

“Sometimes he felt like a ghost in his own life. The past had become his country, so familiar that its lanes and its byways were imprinted on his heart. He remembered a time when he’d been too busy to consider all the things that had gone before. But he was young then, eager and reckless and dashing headlong towards the future. Now the years had found him. His body ached in the mornings, he moved more slowly; he was scarred inside and out. His hair was wispy and grey and whenever he noticed his face in the glass it was full of creases and folds, like the lines on a map. Sometimes he woke, not quite sure who he was now, or why. There was comfort in the past. There was love.

Richard Nottingham crossed Timble Bridge and started up Kirkgate, the cobbles slippery under his shoes. At the Parish Church he turned, following the path through the yard to the graves. Rose Waters, his older daughter, married and dead of fever before she could give birth. And next to her, Mary Nottingham, his wife, murdered because of his own arrogance; every day he missed her; missed both of them. He stooped and picked a leaf from the grass by her headstone. October already. Soon there would be a flood of dead leaves as the year tumbled to a close.”

 

Bringing Richard back was like spending time with an old, trusted friend and a long time away. I treasured it. I value Richard, his family, and I want to take you with me to spend time with them, to live their lives.

My copies of the book arrived on Monday, and it was a thrill hold hold one, to open it. By now, you’d think I’d be used to it. But this is…special. Some of you had emailed to ask when Richard would return. Here’s your answer.

The book is published in the UK on October 31 – four months later elsewhere. If you’re close to Leeds on Thursday, November 9, I hope you’ll come to the launch for it, at the Leeds Library on Commercial St (the oldest subscription library in England, in the same building since 1808. There will be a specially-composed soundtrack, and some live music. Starts at 7 pm, and I’d love to fill the place…

Obviously, I hope you’ll buy the book. I’d love that. But I know that many can’t afford it. Borrow it from your library – support libraries in every way you can. If they don’t have it on order, request it…

More than anything, I hope you enjoy it. And thank you, because without readers, writers are nothing.

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Coming in October – Free From All Danger

I hadn’t planned on another post quite so quickly. But I’ve received the cover for the seventh Richard Nottingham book (yes, it’s been over four years since the last one), and it’s wonderful – see the evil on that face.

So here it is, the cover, along with the blurb.

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October, 1736. Lured out of retirement to serve as Constable once again, Richard Nottingham finds Leeds very different to the place he remembers. Many newcomers have been attracted by the town’s growing wealth – but although the faces have changed, the crimes remain the same, as Nottingham discovers when a body is found floating in the River Aire, its throat cut.

 

What has changed is the fear that pervades the town. With more bodies emerging and witnesses too frightened to talk, Nottingham realizes he’s dealing with a new kind of criminal, someone with no respect for anything or anyone. Someone who believes he’s beyond the law; someone willing to brutally destroy anyone who opposes him. To stop him, Nottingham will need to call in old favours, rely on trusted friendships, and seek help from some very unlikely sources.

In Praise Of…Candace Robb

Every writer has influences. In some cases it can be style, in others, on the way a writer approaches their work. I have several, but one of the most lingering is the historical crime novelist Candace Robb.

I first came across her work about 20 years ago. I was still living in Seattle then, and came across a couple of her books at my local library. They were set in York, always one of my favourite cities, and in the 1300s, a very interesting time. I borrowed them, devoured them, and after that devoured the rest of her Owen Archer series, followed by her three Margaret Kerr books. In terms of language they were spot-on that I assumed they were written by someone local, someone who understood the place and its people in her bones.

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Fast forward quite a few years. My partner came across a book about Alice Perrers called The King’s Mistress and raved about it. I read it, curious because Perrers had been a minor character in one of the Owen Archer novels. It was as good as she said. A little digging online showed that the author, Emma Campion, was…Candace Robb. And she didn’t live in York at all. She lived in Seattle. More than that, she’d grown up in Cincinnati, where I spent a decade before moving out to the West Coast.

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It was kinda weird.

By then I had a few historical crime novels of my own out on the shelves, the first volumes in my Richard Nottingham series. And the way Candace made family relationships such an important part of her novels had affected the way I put together my books. I owed her a debt.

I dropped her an email. She replied. And out of that, we’ve become good friends. We’ve never met, although we’ve been in the same cities at the same time before.  I’ve continued writing, and so has she: first another big historical, A Triple Knot, about Joan of Kent, and last year The Service of the Dead, the first in a new series set in York, featuring Kate Clifford, a young widow (that will see UK publication this year, while the second will be published soon in the US). I’ve read it; it’s every bit as good as her Owen Archer novels, which are my favourites.

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She’s an academic, a scholar with a very deep knowledge of the Middle Ages and especially of York, a city that seems to run in her blood. Everything detail is impeccably researched, but the scholarship is always in service of the story. It’s finely woven in – another influence she’s had on my work (well, I hope I’ve succeeded). And, most importantly for anyone writing about another time and place, she takes you there. When you read, you’re moving through York (or other places) in the 14th century. You can smell it, you can taste it. That’s a rare, precious quality.

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This June, Candace will be in England. She has an event – maybe more – in York. But happily she’s also going to do an ‘In Conversation With…’ in Leeds, on June 8 at the Leeds Library, a pop-up event by Leeds Big Bookend. I feel especially lucky, because I’m the one who’ll be asking her the questions.

For those who enjoy what I write, come along if you can, and discover one of the best historical crime writers. Or, if you’re a fan of hers – discover her if you don’t already know her work – this will be a treat.

2017, And My Year Ahead

So here we are, tiptoeing into 2017, casting a cautious eye at its possibilities, a little hopeful, a little wary that it might be more brutal than 2016. But the only thing my prognostications and the tea leaves are telling me is about the books I have coming up this year. Sorry I can’t help on lottery numbers or Grand National winners. I’m just not that good.

I write every day. I do it because it’s what I love and I have things to say. I’ve been lucky, so far at least, that publishers have wanted to put them in print and some people enjoy them. You have no idea how grateful I am for that.

I still have things to say, tales to tell. But there’s a strange alchemy that turns life into fiction, an odd transmutation. Late in February the fifth of my Tom Harper novels, On Copper Street,  comes out in the UK. Except that underneath everything, it’s not a Tom Harper book at all; that’s just the cloak it wears. Early last year, in the space of two weeks, I received news that three different friends had all been diagnosed with cancer. By then, 2016 was already whittling away at some of the icons of my generation. My friends, I’m pleased to say, are still here and seem to be doing well. But this book became my way to cope with it all, my way of understanding. Maybe even of accepting, I don’t know. It’s a way to reach down to the truth of it as it hits me, of that balance between life and death.

That, I know, probably doesn’t explain much. But for now, it’ll have to do. Oh, and if you’re especially eager, the best price for it seems to be here.

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This summer there’s the third, and last, Chesterfield book with John the Carpenter, The Holywell Dead. For a man who came to me in an instant on the A61, driving through Chesterfield, he feels to have been around a while. We still had a little unfinished business, I was aware of that. Not just him, but Walter, Katherine, Martha, even Coroner de Harville. Their stories had further to run. Not that much…maybe just enough. The limits of a small town and a man who’d rather work with wood than find murderers were closing in. And it ends, I hope, in a fairly apocalyptic fashion, bowing out on a high note. I’ve enjoyed my time in the 14th century with him, but we’ve walked as far as the fork in the road and he’s taken one path and I’ve trodden along the other.

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Then there’s my second – and again, last – visit with Lottie Armstrong in The Year of the Gun. I didn’t have a choice about it. She insisted. Her presence haunted me after I’d completed Modern Crimes, so that she had to come back. But the woman I visited again was older, in her forties, and experiencing World War II in Leeds. There was a vibrancy about her, so extraordinary by being ordinary. She had this other adventure to tell me about; all I had to do was listen and note it all down. But she wasn’t going to let me be until she’d finished the tale. As I said, the choice was taken out of my hands.

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And finally, in late November there will be Free from All Danger, the seventh Richard Nottingham book. It’s still unfolding, not quite all written yet. But I’ve known for a long time that Richard had more to say, and I’m glad he has the chance. By the time it appears, it will be four years since the last volume in the series.

I’m not a fan of endless series with the same character. It’s rare to be able to pull that off, although one or two writers do manage it with some depth. But as characters age, some edges get rounded, while others splinter a little and grow jagged and sharp. Some surfaces harden and other become softer. Those are the hallmarks, far more than the lines on the face or the lack of hair.

Richard has been away, but as he comes back it’s a chance to see how Leeds and the world has changed, and what his place in this might be. The old rubbing up against the new and how they can work together.

In many ways, Richard struck me early on as being like the straight-arrow sheriff in a Western, with his strong sense of good and evil. That changed somewhat over the course of the books, and the grey areas lapped so strongly into the black and the white. But coming out of retirement, how will he find everything now? Is he still sharp enough? More than that, where does he fit? And part of that is me, and my own sense of mortality, heavily tempered by the last 12 months, and the knowledge that new generations are shaping the world, while those of us who are older become more and more like bystanders, slightly out of time.

If the series had continued without a break, this wouldn’t have been the book I’d have written. So I hope that gap, that distance, has served us well.

Tom (and Annabelle, naturally), John, Lottie, Richard – they’re all as alive to me as anyone I talk to in a shop or over coffee. They’re friends, confidantes. And sometimes their books refract bits of the present into the past. Sometimes reflections of history, sometimes my own present, my thoughts and emotions. That transmutation that fiction can give.

And that offers a little background to the work of mine that’s appearing in the next 12 months. Of course, I hope they entertain, which is what they should do, and if they don’t manage that, then I’ve failed as a fiction writer. But there’s a backstory to each one, too, and maybe knowing it will offer a little more richness to the books.

Go on, have a listen

The best way to enjoy a book is to feel part of it, to be immersed in it. Well, that’s how it works for me.

With that in mind, here’s a teaser from Two Bronze Pennies, just enough to whet your appetites, I hope, and all read by my own fair larynx.

Go on, have a listen.

And after that you can buy it here – the best price I’ve seen – with free worldwide delivery.

And of course, don’t miss the online global launch, 6pm UK time, Sunday May 24. Click the link below and you’re in. No leaving home, no getting dressed up. Read all about it here.

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Two Bronze Pennies – A Short Extract

You know – don’t you? – that my second Tom Harper novel, Two Bronze Pennies, comes out in the UK at the end of April (August/September elsewhere). Much of it is set in the Leylands, that area just north of the city centre where most of the Jewish immigrants settled when they came to Leeds.

Just to whet your appetite, here’s the opening few pages. Tom, Annabelle, Billy Reed, the Victoria – a dead body and men speaking in Yiddish. Go on, you know you want to….

One

‘Have you heard a word I said, Tom Harper?’

‘Of course I have.’ He stirred and stretched in the chair beside the fireplace. ‘You were talking about visiting your sister.’

Annabelle’s face softened. ‘It’ll only be for an hour. We can go in the afternoon, after we’ve eaten.’

‘Of course,’ he told her with a smile. He was happy, finally at home and warm for the first time since morning.

He’d spent the day chasing around Leeds on the trail of a burglar, no closer to catching him than he’d been a month before. He’d gone from Burley to Hunslet, and never a sniff of the man. But it was better than being in uniform; half the constables had been on patrol in the outdoor market, cut by the December wind as they tried to nab the pickpockets and sneak thieves. It was still blowing out there, howling and rattling the window frames. As a police inspector, at least he could take hackney cabs and omnibuses and dodge the weather for a while.

Tomorrow he was off duty. Christmas Day. For the last five years he’d worked it. Not this time, though. Christmas 1890, the first together with his wife. He turned his head to look at her and the wedding ring that glinted in the light. Five months married. Annabelle Harper. The words still made him smile.

‘What?’ she asked.

He shook his head. ‘Nothing.’

He often glanced at her when she was busy, working in the kitchen or at her desk, going through the figures for her businesses. Sometimes he could scarcely believe she’d married him. Annabelle had grown up in the slums of the Bank, another daughter in a poor Irish family. She’d started work here in the Victoria public house and eventually married the landlord. Six years later, after he died, everyone advised her to sell. But she’d held on and kept the place, trusting her instincts, and she’d built it into a healthy business. Then she’d seen an opportunity and opened bakeries in Sheepscar and Meanwood that were doing well. Annabelle Harper was a rich woman. Not that anyone round here called her Mrs Harper. To them she’d always be Mrs Atkinson, the name she’d carried for so long.

Whatever they called her, she was his.

‘You look all in,’ she told him.

Harper gave a contented sigh. Where they lived, in the rooms over the pub, felt perfectly comfortable, curtains drawn against the winter night, the fire in the hearth and the soft hiss of the gas lights. He didn’t want to move.

‘I’m cosy,’ he said. ‘Come and give me a cuddle.’

‘A cuddle? You’re lucky I put your supper on the table.’

She stuck out her tongue, her gown swishing as she came and settled in his arms. He could hear the voices in the bar downstairs. Laughter and a snatch of song from the music halls.

‘Don’t worry,’ she told him. ‘I’ll send them on their way early tonight. They all have homes to go to. Then we can have some peace and quiet.’

But only for a few hours. Annabelle would be up before dawn, the way she always was, working next to the servants, stuffing the goose that was waiting in the kitchen, baking the bread and preparing the Christmas dinner. Dan the barman, the girls who worked for her, and God knew who else would join them at the table. They’d light candles on the tree, sing, laugh, exchange gifts and drink their way through the barrel of beer she’d set aside.

Then, after their bellies were full, the two of them would walk over to visit her sister, taking presents for Annabelle’s nieces and nephews. For one day, at least, he could forget all the crime in Leeds. Billy Reed, his sergeant, would cover the holiday. Then Harper would  return on Boxing Day, back to track down the damned burglar.

Annabelle stirred.

‘Did you hear that?’ she asked.

‘What?’

He gazed at her. He hadn’t heard a thing. Six years before, while he was still a constable, he’d taken a blow on the ear that left him partially deaf. The best the doctor could offer was that his hearing might return in time. But in the last few months, since autumn began, it had grown a little worse. Sometimes he missed entire sentences, not just words. His ear simply shut off for a few seconds. He’d never told anyone about the problem, scared that it would go on his record.

‘On the stairs.’

He listened. Still nothing. Then someone was knocking on the door. Before he could move, she rose swiftly to answer it.

‘It’s for you.’ Her voice was dark.

He recognized the young constable from Millgarth station. One of the new intake, his uniform carefully pressed, cap pulled down smartly on his head and face eager with excitement. Had he ever looked as green as that?

‘I’m off duty—’ he began.

‘I know, sir.’ The man blushed. ‘But Superintendent Kendall told me to come and fetch you. There’s been a murder.’

Harper turned helplessly to Annabelle. There’d be no visit to her sister for him tomorrow.

‘You go, Tom.’ She kissed him on the cheek. ‘Just come home as soon as you can.’

Two

The cold clawed his breath away. Stars shone brilliantly in a clear sky. He huddled deeper into his overcoat and pulled the muffler tight around his neck.

‘What’s your name?’ Harper asked as they started down the road.

‘Stone, sir. Constable Stone. Started three month back.’

‘And where are we going, Mr Stone?’

‘The Leylands, sir.’

Harper frowned. ‘Whereabouts?’

‘Trafalgar Street.’

He knew the area very well. He’d grown up no more than a stone’s throw from there, up on Noble Street. All of it poverty-scented by the stink of malt and hops from the Brunswick Brewery up the road. Back-to-back houses as far as the eye could see. A place where the pawnbrokers did roaring business each Monday as housewives took anything valuable to exchange for the cash to last until Friday payday.

In the last few years the area had changed. It had filled with Jewish immigrants; almost every house was packed with them, from Russia and Poland and countries whose names he didn’t know, while the English moved out and scattered across the city. Yiddish had become the language of the Leylands. Only the smell of the brewery and the lack of money remained the same.

‘Step out,’ he told the constable. ‘We’ll freeze to the bloody spot if we stand still.’

Harper led the way, through the memory of the streets where he used to run as a boy. The gas lamps threw little circles of light but he hardly needed them; he could have found his way in pitch blackness. The streets were empty, curtains closed tight. People would be huddled together in their beds, trying to keep warm.

As they turned the corner into Trafalgar Street he caught the murmur of voices. Suddenly lights burned in the houses and figures gathered on their doorsteps. Harper raised his eyes questioningly at Stone.

‘The outhouses, sir. About halfway down.’

The cobbles were icy; Harper’s boots slipped as he walked. Conversation ended as they passed, men and women looking at them with fearful, suspicious eyes. They were goys. Worse, they were authority.

They passed two blocks of four houses before Stone turned and moved between a pair of coppers, their faces ruddy and chilled, keeping back a small press of people. Someone had placed a sheet over the body. Harper knelt and pulled it back for a moment. A young man, strangely serene in death. Straggly dark hair, white shirt without a collar, dark suit and overcoat. The inspector ran his hands over the clothes, feeling the blood crusted where the man had been stabbed. Slowly, he counted the wounds. Four of them. All on the chest. The corpse had been carefully arranged, he noticed. The body was straight, the arms out to the sides, making the shape of a cross. Two bronze pennies covered the dead man’s eyes, the face of Queen Victoria looking out.

Harper stood again and noticed Billy Reed talking to one of the uniforms and scribbling in his notebook. The sergeant nodded as he saw him.

‘Do we know who he was?’

‘Not yet.’ Reed rubbed his hands together and blew on them for warmth. ‘Best as I can make out, that one found him an hour ago. But I don’t speak the lingo.’ He nodded towards a middle-aged man in a dark coat, a black hat that was too large almost covering his eyes. ‘He started shouting and the beat bobby came along. They called me out.’ He shrugged. ‘I told the super I could take care of it but he wanted you.’ His voice was a mixture of apology and resentment.

‘It doesn’t matter.’

It did, of course. He didn’t want to be out here with a corpse in the bitter night. He’d rather be at home with his wife, in bed and feeling the warmth of her skin. But Kendall had given his orders.

The man who’d found the body stood apart from the others, head bowed, muttering to himself. He scarcely glanced up as Harper approached, lips moving in undertone of words.

‘Do you know who the dead man is?’ he asked.

Er iz toyt.’ He’s dead.

‘English?’ the inspector asked hopefully, but the man just shook his head. He kept his gaze on the ground, too fearful to look directly at a policeman.

Velz is dayn nomen?’ The Yiddish made the man’s head jerk up. What’s your name?

‘Israel Liebermann, mayn ir,’ the man replied nervously. Sir. Growing up here it had been impossible not to absorb a little of the language. It floated in the shops and all around the boys that played in the road.

Ikh bin Inspector Harper.’

A hand tapped him on the shoulder and he turned quickly to see a pair of dark eyes staring at him.

‘What?’ He had the sense that the man had spoken; for that moment he hadn’t heard a word. He swallowed and the world came back into both ears.

‘I said it was a good try, Inspector Harper. But your accent needs work.’ The voice was warm, filled with kindness. He extended his hand and Harper took it.

‘I’m Rabbi Feldman.’

The man was dressed for the weather in a heavy overcoat that extended almost to his feet, thick boots, leather gloves and a hat pulled down to his ears. A wiry grey beard flowed down to his chest.

A gust of wind blew hard. Harper shivered, feeling the chill deep in his marrow.

‘If you think this is cold, you never had a winter in Odessa.’ The rabbi grinned, then his face grew serious. ‘Can I help at all?’

‘Someone’s been murdered. This gentleman found him.’

Feldman nodded then began a conversation in Yiddish with Liebermann. A pause, another question and a long answer.

He’d heard of the rabbi. Everyone had. Around the Leylands he was almost a hero. He was one of them; his family had taken the long march west, all the way to England, when the pogroms began. He understood their sorrows and their dreams. In his sixties now, walking with the help of a silver-topped stick, he’d been head of the Belgrave Street Synagogue for over ten years. He taught in the Hebrew school on Gower Street and met with councillors from the Town Hall. He was man of mitzvahs, good deeds. Portly and gentle, with quiet dignity, he was someone in the community, a man everybody respected.

‘He says he needed the outhouse just before ten – he’d looked at his watch in the house so he knew what time it was. He put on his coat and came down.’ Feldman smiled. ‘You understand, it’s cold in these places. You try to finish as soon as possible. When he was done he noticed the shape and went to look. That’s when he began to yell.’

‘Thank you,’ Harper said, although it was no more than they already knew.

‘Murder is a terrible business, Inspector.’ The man hesitated. ‘Is there anything else I can do?’

‘We still don’t know the name of the dead man.’

‘May I?’ Feldman gestured at the corpse. Harper nodded and one of the constables drew back the sheet again.

Mine Got.’ He drew in his breath sharply.

‘Do you know him?’

It was a few seconds before the rabbi answered, staring intently at the face on the ground. Slowly he took off the hat and tugged a hand through his ragged white hair.

‘Yes, Inspector,’ he said, and there was the sadness of lost years in his voice. ‘I know him. I know him very well. I gave him his bris and his bar mitzvah. He’s my sister’s son.’

His nephew. God, Harper thought, what a way to find out.

‘I’m sorry, sir. Truly.’

The man’s shoulders slumped.

‘He was seventeen.’ The rabbi shook his head in disbelief. ‘Just a boychik. He was going to be the one.’ Feldman tapped a finger against the side of his head. ‘He had the smarts, Inspector. His father, he was already training him to run the business.’

‘What was his name, sir? I need to know.’

‘Abraham. Abraham Levy.’ The rabbi rummaged in a trouser pocket, brought out a handkerchief and wiped his eyes. ‘Why?’ he asked quietly. ‘Why would someone kill anyone who was so young?’

And Two Bronze Pennies is now available to order ahead of its publication on April 30. Follow this link.