Finding The Leaden Heart – Gods Of Gold

As I’ve mentioned before – and I’ll be saying again and again – the end of March sees the publication of my new book, The Leaden Heart. It’s the seventh in the Tom Harper series, set in 1899, on the cusp of a brand-new century that is set to bring more changes that anyone could imagine.

In the weeks leading up to it seeing the light of day, time to revisit some of the book in the series…

Hard to believe that it’s only five years since Tom made his first appearance, met as he sprints down Briggate in pursuit of a thief. That’s where it all started, with Gods of Gold, set during the 1890 Leeds Gas Strike, which the union won in just three days, a rare example of the workers coming out on top.

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It was strange that the book even appeared. I’d written six Richard Nottingham novels, and my publisher asked for something different. I’d always sworn I’d never set anything in Victorian times. But after that I read about the gas strike and I knew it ought to be celebrated. I received help from a strange source, a woman I’d met before, as I’d written a short story about her (Annabelle Atkinson and Mr. Grimshaw). She sat down next to me and said, ‘I was there, luv. I was the landlady at the Victoria. Why don’t you let me tell you about it?’

And so Gods of Gold came about. The title is from a poem by Tom Maguire, one of Leeds’ great unsung political figures, a man who did so much for the working classes here, only to die in poverty far, far too young. He’s buried at Beckett Street Cemetery.

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Joanne Harris, the bestselling author (who has a new book coming called The Strawberry Thief) was generous enough to praise the novel: “A vibrant sense of living history, with strong, well-drawn characters…I loved it.”

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I made a trailer for the book, and here it is, all dusted off and YouTube shiny.

For the launch, I even had 10 tee shirts made, featuring the cover image. Remarkably, nine of them sold, and I still have the other in a drawer. And there were book marks.

Apart from Tom, the book also featured Detective Sergeant Billy Reed, who’s featured in every book so far, as well as Constable Ash, who’s grown since his introduction in uniform. But there was someone else, that woman who told me all about the strike. Annabelle Atkinson.

She’s Annabelle Harper now, of course, and has been for a long time. But they were still courting in those early days, and I had no idea how important a figure she’d become in the series, it’s emotional linchpin, in fact. As the series progresses, in many ways it’s become the story of the Harper family, how they change and age over the years, as much as they’re crime novels or historical fiction. Or why not all three? I ended up writing a play about Annabelle, called The Empress on the Corner, which was performed a few times. A couple of scenes were filmed, including this, which recounts how she and Tom first met. The Victorian pub is part of Abbey House Museum in Leeds – they were kind enough to let us film.

In those days I didn’t know the books would end up taking on such a life of their own. At the risk of sound pretentious, the series has taken on the feel of my magnum opus. Like any writer, I was fumbling in the dark, not sure where things were heading. I have a much clearer sense of things now. That doesn’t mean the people will do what I expect and hope. After all, they’ve gone their own way in the past six books.

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Thank You and A Sense of Place

I hope you won’t mind if I begin with a bit of self-congratulation: Publisher’s Weekly has given Free From All Danger a starred review. I’m immensely proud of that for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s impossible to know what any reader will make of what a writer does, so something that positive means a great deal. Secondly, it’s the seventh in the series, arriving four years after the last one. That’s quite a space of time. All the previous six achieved starred reviews, so there’s a giant sigh of relief that they like this one as much. Richard Nottingham is older this time around, a changed man in some ways. I’m just happy people still like him.

Anyway…Christmas and the end of 2017 are just a few days away. I wanted to wish you all a lovely time, and a happy, healthy 2018 – and to thank you for your support. I really do value it.

At this time of year I like looking around Leeds and thinking about my family connections to the place. They crop up quite a bit in my novels. References I know, that I enjoy putting in.

The biggest is probably the Victoria pub from the Tom Harper novels. Annabelle is the landlady, but from the 1920s to the 1940s, it was my great-grandfather who ran the place. My father lived in Cross Green, and as a boy he’d walk over in the summer so he could go upstairs and play the piano for hours on end. Impossible not to celebrate a connection like that.

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In fact, a little of the idea of including the place at all came from a book he wrote, that was never published. His main character was a female servant from Barnsley who came to a pub in Sheepscar as a servant. She ended up running the place and owning three bakeries. His maternal grandparents were from Barnsley, and originally ran a pub in Hunslet before taking over the Victoria. And, in the Harper series, Annabelle runs, then sells, three bakeries. So thank you, Dad. You have me a lot in that.

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Dan Markham’s flat in Chapel Allerton (Dark Briggate Blues) is in the building where my parents made their first home, and where I spent my first year. Curiously, a reader told me once that her daughter was living there now. His office on Albion Place is where my father had his office.

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Lottie Armstrong’s house in The Year of the Gun is the house where I grew up. The present owner graciously showed me around, and it’s very much the same as it was, I’m pleased to say.

It’s four years now since I moved back to Leeds, and honestly, I’ve never felt more connected to a place in my life.

Sanctuary

Plenty of you seemed to enjoy the Richard Nottingham story I posted last week. So I dug deep and discovered this…maybe you’ll like it as much.

Leeds, 1731

Outside, the wind was howling up a gale, bruising and battering. It whipped against the window, rattling it in the loose frame, and hammered sharply against the door. Night had fallen and any folk with sense were indoors, gathered close by their hearths. Winter was announcing its arrival.

Richard Nottingham, Constable of Leeds, stirred up the embers of the fire at the jail, watching the coals glow rich and red as the sparks leaped up the chimney. He rubbed his hands together, trying to pull some warmth into his flesh. He’d been out all day hunting a killer.

Ten people in the Packhorse had seen the murder happen the night before. Simon Walsh, deep in his cups, had started an argument. Those who knew him always kept their distance once he started drinking. He was a big man, violent when the mood and the ale took him. From all the Constable had learned, Walsh had begun shouting at a small man, a stranger, just words to begin, turning quickly to pushing and goading, until the man drew a knife to defend himself. Then Simon had pulled his own weapon, cutting and slashing, the rage gathering him up, until the stranger was dead.

Only then, as the blood lust faded from his mind, had he seen what he’d done. He’d run from the inn, no one brave enough to challenge him. And now it was the job of Nottingham and his men to find him.

The Constable had been called from his bed in the middle of the night and had worked ever since. He was chilled to his marrow, ready to go home to his wife and daughters and leave Simon to freeze to death out there. But he knew he couldn’t do that. They’d keep going until they found him and he was in a cell.

Nottingham poured some ale into a mug and drank it slowly while the warmth of the fire began to soak through him. Another ten minutes and he’d go back out.

He’d just started to pull the greatcoat around himself when the door opened and John Sedgwick, the deputy, appeared, breathless, his face flushed with running.

‘We’ve got him, boss. He’s down at the new church.’

‘Do you have someone guarding the place?’

‘Front and back.’ He hesitated, frowning.

‘What?’ Nottingham asked.

‘He’s taken a girl in with him. Pulled her off the street when we chased him there.’

‘Right,’ the Constable decided quickly. ‘You go and find Mr. Scott, the vicar. I’ll go and talk to Simon. He’ll be sober by now. He’s scared.’

‘Every right to be. He’s going to hang for this.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Better be armed, boss. You know what he can be like.’

Nottingham took a sword from the cupboard on the wall and strapped on the belt, then handed the other to the deputy. ‘You too, John. Just in case.’

 

The air had turned even colder, the wind brisker, more piercing than before. Their breath made small clouds as they walked down Briggate and along Boar Lane where Holy Trinity, the new church, had been built just two years earlier, its pale stone not yet blackened by all the soot, the strange wooden steeple rising up towards heaven.

The Constable pushed open the heavy wooden door and walked into the porch, then through to the nave. His boots clattered on the tile floor. Candles were lit by the altar and he could see Walsh sitting there, a young woman crumpled at his feet where she’d fainted. He was stroking her hair gently and looked up at the sound.

‘I’ve not hurt her,’ Simon said. He was close to fifty, a good ten years older than Nottingham, bigger and stronger, with thick arms that could effortlessly pick up and carry a bale of cloth. His coat was ragged, parting at some of the seams, his linen grimy. The ragged waistcoat had been sewn for a smaller man. It hung open, the tails flapping over his thighs. Walsh wore heavy boots and thick worsted hose, the breeches torn at the knee and covered in mud. ‘I wouldn’t, neither. I just wanted them to leave me be to come in here. That’s why I took hold of her. And then she went and did that.’ He seemed astonished by her behaviour.

The Constable strode forward until barely two yards separated the men. In the soft, flickering light he could see the girl’s chest rise and fall as she breathed, and her eyelids started to move. He crouched, reaching out to take her hand in his own.

‘You’re going to be fine, love.’ He kept his voice low and gentle, rubbing small circles on her skin and watching as she slowly came to, eyes blinking. Who could blame her for her fear? ‘I’m the Constable,’ he told her. ‘You don’t have to worry now. You’re safe now.’

Her eyes opened quickly, terrified, and she looked around in a panic. Seeing Walsh, she opened her mouth to scream and tried to push herself away.

‘He’s not going to do anything,’ Nottingham assured her. ‘I promise. I’m here.’ As she turned to stare at him, he smiled. ‘What’s your name?’ he asked.

‘Martha,’ she answered, her voice just a croak. She swallowed hard. ‘Martha, sir.’

‘Try not to worry, Martha. Mr. Walsh won’t hurt you. Can you stand?’

‘I think so.’

He helped her to her feet. For a moment she was unsteady, holding hard on to his arm, then she breathed in and nodded.

‘My men are waiting outside,’ he said. ‘Just go out and they’ll look after you.’

She glanced back at Walsh.

‘You’re safe. He’s not going to hurt you. I’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything.’ He waited until she gave another small nod. He heard her footsteps as she scurried away, the sound of the door closing booming in echoes around the church.

‘Right, it’s just you and me, then, Simon,’ the Constable said. He leaned against one of the box pews, the carefully polished wood gleaning in the light.

‘Did I kill him?’ Walsh’s eyes were empty, his mouth little more than a pinched line. He was a man who’d always worked with his body, not his mind; he acted first and thought after. ‘Last night. The man.’

‘You know full well you did. You knew it back then after you’d attacked him. Why else would you run?’

‘Aye.’ Walsh agreed, rubbing his hand across the back of his neck.

‘Why? Why did you do it, Simon?’ He’d caused trouble often enough, but in the past it had always been fists and feet, bloody but never deadly.

He glanced up, a regretful look on his face.

‘I don’t know, Mr. Nottingham. I swear I don’t. It were the ale. It were in me.’

‘Do you know who he was?’

Walsh shook his head, grimacing as if he didn’t want to hear the answer.

‘His name was Tom Dunn,’ the Constable said. ‘He’d not even been here a month. Came down from Malton with his wife and baby girl hoping to make a little money and a decent life. I had to go and tell them last night.’ He saw Simon look at the floor. ‘The little one’s not even two and the wife is carrying again.’

The words filled the church, falling slowly away to silence.

‘You’re going to hang for this, Simon.’

‘Nay, Mr. Nottingham.’ He could hear the pleading in the man’s voice, the sorrow and remorse. ‘You can’t do that. I didn’t mean to hurt him. It weren’t me. You know what I’m like.’

‘You killed him. Ten people saw you do it.’

‘There’s none of them tried to stop me!’

‘Look at yourself,’ the Constable said angrily. ‘Who could stop you when you’ve a fury on you? You’d have murdered them, too.’

‘Will you tell his wife I’m sorry? Tell her I didn’t mean to do it.’

‘Words aren’t going to help her, Simon.’

Walsh moved his hand and Nottingham stiffened, ready to draw his sword. Instead the man reached into the pocket of his breeches, pulling out as few coins and tossing them on the floor. ‘Give her that. It’s all as I’ve got.’

The Constable sighed.

‘Come on, Simon, it’s time to go. You’ve led us a pretty dance all day but it’s enough now.’

Walsh didn’t stir.

‘You know that’s not right, Mr. Nottingham.’

‘What isn’t?’ He didn’t understand.

‘I’m in a church. I’m by the altar.’ He gave a smile.

‘What are you trying to say?’

‘It’s the law, I’ve got sanctuary here.’ He pronounced the word slowly, unfamiliar and awkward, something heard years before and faintly recalled. ‘Why do you think I came here? It’s the law. Me granddad told me where I were a little ‘un.’

Nottingham sighed. Now it made sense.

‘No, Simon, it’s not the law. I don’t know what he said to you, but it was wrong.’

Walsh looked up, pain and fear filling his eyes.

‘He’d not have lied to me,’ he said sharply. ‘He were a good man.’

‘Long ago churches used to offer sanctuary,’ the Constable explained, watching as the man cocked his head. ‘That part’s right. But it’s all in the past. They changed that law more than a century ago.’

The candles lit a tear falling down the man’s cheek.

‘You’d not lie to me, Mr. Nottingham?’

‘No, Simon,’ he answered softly. ‘You know I wouldn’t.’

Walsh rose slowly, pushing himself off the floor with strong arms until he was upright, his shoulders slumped.

‘You know it has to be this way, don’t you?’ the Constable asked and waited as the man nodded his acceptance. ‘You can walk out next to me. Mr. Sedgwick’s out there. We’ll take you to the jail.’

First Day – A Richard Nottingham Story

I’m not sure why, but Richard Nottingham’s been on my mind a little in recent days. So I dug back and discovered this story I wrote about him. The tale will be four years old next week. Maybe it’s time for the light of day…and if you’ve missed Richard, enjoy…

He woke well before the dawn, his body and his mind quickly alert. Quietly, he eased himself out of the bed, hearing the snores and breathing of the other men in the room. There were eight of them and more elsewhere in the lodging house, the smell of sweat, ale, and sour breath part of the fabric of the walls.

He dressed soundlessly, washed his face and hands and swilled cold water in his mouth before running damp fingers through his wild hair. Downstairs, the two servants were in the kitchen, starting the fire, grumbling and moaning their way into the day.

The air was cool against his face as he walked from Hunslet over Leeds Bridge and into the town. On Briggate a few weavers were already setting up their trestles for the Tuesday morning cloth market, and the taverns were open, doing a steady trade in ale and the Brigg End Shot beef breakfast. None of them paid him any attention.

He turned down Kirkgate and opened the door of a squat building. ‘Hello, sir,’ he said.

The man looked up slowly from the papers on the desk.

‘You’ll not get more money for coming early.’ He nodded at the empty chair. ‘Sit thisen down. I need to finish this.’

Richard Nottingham sat quiet, eyes moving around the room, imagining the cells beyond the thick oak door and the people who might be in them. He was ready for his first day as a Constable’s man.

He waited, watching Will Arkwright work, the Constable’s coat over the back of his chair, bright blue waistcoat snug against his chest, the sleeves of his shirt pushed up to show thick forearms covered in dark hair.  Finally the man put down his quill and sat back, staring at him.

‘You think I took you on because of you da, don’t you?’ he asked.

It was true; Nottingham believed that. His father had been a merchant, not good, not successful, but he’d married into money, and the dowry had kept a kind of prosperity. When he’d discovered his wife was having an affair he’d thrown her out, their son with her, keeping the money and the property for himself. As legal as the day was long, the woman and the child left to starve. She’d sold her body, the only thing she had left, to anyone with a few pennies. In four years she was dead and the lad was on his own. He’d slept where he could, in the woods outside the town, empty houses, in the silent, hidden places with the other outsiders. He learned to fend for himself, to live on the rotten food left at the market and what he could steal.

Now he was twenty, it was the year 1711 and the poacher had turned gamekeeper; he was going to catch the thieves.

‘I don’t know,’ he answered. ‘Did you, sir?’

‘Nay.’ Nottingham felt the man’s eyes on him. ‘Your name’s got nowt to do with it. I’ve been watching you for a while. You’re clever. Not as clever as you think you are, mind,’ he added with a sly grin, ‘but you’ll do. And you can learn.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Are you ready, lad?’ the Constable asked.

‘Yes, sir.’

Arkwright grinned.  ‘No need for that. Boss is fine. Come on, I’ll show you round the market.’

Nottingham felt proud as he walked next to the older man, listening carefully as Arkwright pointed out characters among the crowd and among the merchants. As the bell rang and the whispered trading began, the Constable led him all the way to the bridge and looked back up the street.

‘You know how much business is done there, Richard?’ he asked.

‘No, boss.’ He’d never given it much thought.

‘There’ll be thousands of pounds change hands,’ he said. ‘Imagine that.’

He tried, but he couldn’t. His life was measured out in farthings and pennies. A pound was a fortune to him, more money than he’d ever had in his hand.

‘You see him?’ Arkwright pointed out a tall, barrel-chested man who strode up Briggate, looking straight ahead, two younger men following close behind him. The man had his hair cropped close against his skull and walked bareheaded. His clothes might have been good once, but now they seemed old, shabby, worn for too many years.

‘Who is he, boss?’ He’d seen the man around in the inns and shops, but never learned his name.

‘That’s Amos Worthy,’ the Constable said slowly. ‘You stay in this job and you’ll come to know him. And hate it, too. He’s the biggest pimp in Leeds, has the corporation in his pocket.’ He sighed and shook his head. ‘Watch your step with him, he’s a brutal bugger.’

Nottingham thought he knew the town well, living so long among its shadows and secrets, but as Arkwright led him around he began to understand there was so much still to discover. Back at the jail Arkwright poured two mugs of ale and handed one across the desk. ‘There’s all you can drink on top of your wage. It’s good; they brew it at the White Swan next door.’

As they drank, the door opened. The man who entered was big, solid, his thick fists scarred, dark stubble heavy across his cheeks and chin. He nodded at the Constable and helped himself to a drink.

‘This the new one, boss?’

‘Aye, that’s him. I’ve taken him round, now you can teach him well. This is Tom Spencer,’ he told Nottingham. ‘My deputy. Pay attention to him; he’ll be giving you your orders.’

‘Call me Tom,’ he said, smiling and showing the lines around his eyes. He was perhaps thirty, with the weary look of a man who’d seen so much that the world couldn’t shock him.

‘I’m Richard.’

Spencer downed the rest of the ale in a single swallow. ‘Right, we’ve had a cutpurse plaguing people at the market for the last few weeks. Let’s see if we can find him.’

He led the way up Briggate, past the Moot Hall and through the market where women clustered around trestles selling old clothes, pans and wares. Up towards the market cross farmers had their chickens in willow cages and others offered butter or fresh milk.

‘You know about cutpurses?’ Spencer asked and Nottingham nodded but said nothing. No need to say that he’d stolen a few himself when he was desperate, his knife quickly cutting the strings then vanishing into the crowd before the owner could even notice. He knew what to look for, the sudden movement only glimpsed from the corner of the eyes, the gaze that shifted around quickly and awkwardly.

‘We’ll catch this one,’ Spencer said confidently. ‘Little bugger’s getting cocky. The boss almost had him last week but the lad was too fast.’

‘How old is he?’

The other man shrugged. ‘Ten or so, small, thin, pale hair. There’s plenty like him around.’

‘Over there,’ Nottingham said quietly.

‘Where?’

‘By the wall, behind the tinker.’ He’d spotted the boy so easily, seen his concentration and the way he stood, his body tense, on the edge of movement.

‘Could be,’ Spencer allowed warily.

‘It is.’

‘You go one side of him, I’ll take the other,’ the deputy ordered. ‘If he reaches a purse, grab him quick, before he can run.’

It didn’t take long. The boy slid away from the wall, his blade extended. A swift cut and the purse was in his hand as he began to merge into the throng. But Nottingham had was already there, his hand tight  around the lad’s wrist as he tried to squeeze past, lifting him off the ground.

Spencer shook the boy roughly by his collar, twisting his arm behind his back until he gave up the money.

‘You’ll not be doing that again, you little bastard,’ he said with relish. ‘You know where you’re going? Jail and the Indies.’ He paused deliberately, a smile on his face. ‘Unless the hangman wants you to dance for him. You saw who he robbed?’ the deputy asked.

‘No.’

‘Never mind, he’ll soon find he’s poorer.’ He tossed the bag of coins to Nottingham. ‘You take this, I’ll look after him.’ He dragged the boy along the street, pushing people out of the way as Nottingham followed behind, muttering apologies and excuses.

At the jail, Spencer threw the boy into a chair. The lad was petrified, curled in on himself, thin shoulders hunched, tears brimming in his eyes, hands shaking as he looked anxiously between the deputy and Nottingham.

‘What’s your name?’ Spencer asked. When the lad didn’t answer immediately he raised his hand, leering as the boy cowered.

‘Mark, sir,’ he answered finally, lowering his head. The deputy walked up to the boy, took a handful of hair and pulled his head back.

‘How many purses have you snatched?’ he shouted

‘Seven.’ The boy’s voice was little more than a frightened whisper. His whole body was trembling.

Spencer raised his eyebrows and laughed. ‘That’ll be the noose for you, then.’ He inclined his head. ‘In the cell.’ The boy moved away meekly and Nottingham heard the heavy clunk of the lock as the deputy turned the key in the door.

‘You didn’t ask why he did it?’

The deputy shrugged. ‘Doesn’t matter, does it? The little sod’s a thief. We caught him with the purse in his hand. We’ve done our job.’ He smiled once, showing a mouth missing half its teeth. ‘You saw him fast enough, anyway, though. How did you know?’

Nottingham didn’t answer immediately; he daren’t. Finally he simply said, ‘Something about him. It didn’t look right.’ He thought about the boy cowering behind the bars, terrified of what would happen to him but knowing it would be the worst thing he could imagine. ‘He’ll hang?’

‘Like as not.’ Spencer poured himself ale. ‘All we do is catch them. The rest is up to lawyers and judges.’ He scratched his armpit. ‘I don’t give a bugger what they do as long as they’re out of our way.’ He drained the cup and ran a hand across his mouth. ‘Come on, let’s get back out there. I’ll see what I can show you.’

 

By late afternoon Nottingham had been through parts of Leeds he’d never known, inside the undercroft of the Parish church, around St. John’s and beyond into Town End where a few merchants were building large new houses to flaunt the money they’d made in the wool trade.

‘Take a good look at these,’ Spencer advised. ‘You need to know who runs this city, and it’s not them without anything.’

Nottingham stared at him sharply. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Them with the money pay us,’ the deputy explained patiently, as if to a child. ‘That means we do what they want.’

‘What about the law?’

Spencer spat and gave him a pitying look. ‘One thing about this job, lad, you’ll grow up in a hurry. Who do you think makes the laws? Give it a while, you’ll see what I mean.’

He wasn’t sure what to think. Perhaps the deputy was right and all they did was keep the rich safe. He thought of the cutpurse, alone in the cell, his throat dry with fear. He thought of the bodies he’d seen floating in the River Aire over the years, every one of them poor folk. Nottingham thought of the merchants at the cloth market that morning with their fine clothes and their high manners. He glanced down at what he was wearing, a coat full of holes, hose worn from white to dull, dreary grey, shoes where the uppers were starting to split from the soles. What did he look like? A poor scare-the-crow, not someone with the authority to enforce anything.

They walked slowly down Briggate from the Head Row, all signs of the morning market gone. Businesses were open, their shutters wide, an iron tang of blood rose from the butchers’ shops on the Shambles, and the prostitutes smiled behind their fans at the entrances to the cramped yards that ran back from the street.

‘You wait here,’ Spencer told him, walking up to one of the women and disappearing into the yard with her. Three minutes later he returned, his face flushed, grinning. ‘One of the best things about this job,’ he said. ‘The lasses won’t refuse you. They know what’s good for them.’

Back at the jail the deputy poured more ale and checked on the boy in the cell. ‘Be back here at dawn tomorrow,’ he told Nottingham. ‘You’ve made a good start, you’ll do well here.’

 

He walked along, lost in thought. He’d been excited after the Constable had taken him on. Not only for the regular wage, but also because he believed he could do something in this place where he’d lived all his life. Maybe he’d even manage find a little justice. He’d explained it all for Mary, the girl he was courting, and revelled to see the joy in her face. What could he tell her now, he wondered? That he’d been wrong? He sighed.

There was still plenty of traffic on Leeds Bridge as he walked back to Hunslet. Carters were leaving the town, the rumble of wheels on cobblestones an undertone to the curses, shouts and laughter.

‘Penny for them, laddie.’

He glanced up at the voice. The man was a little taller than him, his nose broken several times, a sly smile playing across his mouth. But his eyes were hard and empty, telling nothing of his thoughts or his mood.

‘You’re Amos Worthy,’ he said.

‘Aye.’ He nodded lazily and chuckled. ‘Old Arkwright warned you about me, did he?’

‘He told me what you do,’ Nottingham replied coldly.

‘I daresay he did,’ the pimp agreed. ‘And did he point out that if I didn’t do it, someone else would?’ He laughed at the young man’s hesitation. ‘Of course he didn’t. One day as a Constable’s man doesn’t teach you everything about life. There’s still plenty for you to learn.’ He picked at a gap between his teeth with his thumbnail, found a piece of food and wiped it on his greasy, discoloured coat. ‘I knew your father,’ he said, then, as if it was nothing, ‘And your mam, too.’

Nottingham eyed him warily. How did the man know who he was? How had he been connected with his family? Worthy gave a predatory grin.

‘I thought that might make you listen. Happen I’ll tell you sometime. But it’s history, a long time ago.’ He looked the young man up and down. ‘You like working for Arkwright?’ He waited for the answer then laughed. ‘Aye, a day with Tom Spencer and I’d be silent, too.’ He turned away, resting his elbows on the thick parapet of the bridge, looking down at the river. ‘I’ll give you a job if you want it.’

‘Me?’ Whatever he’d expected, it wasn’t this.

Worthy nodded. ‘I’ll pay you better than Arkwright does, too. You’ll not be a rich man but you’ll have some coins in your purse every week.’

‘What would you want me to do for them?’ Nottingham asked flatly. He was certain he knew, but he wanted to hear the man say it himself.

‘Anything I need.’ He looked at the younger man. ‘What did you think? There’s nothing free in this life. And when I give an order I expect it to be carried out.’ His gaze was firm. ‘Whatever it is.’

Nottingham stared back. He wondered about the man in front of him, how he knew about him, what power he had in Leeds.

‘I’ve known Will Arkwright for a long time. He won’t take anyone on just for the sake of it,’ Worthy continued. ‘Nor will I.’

‘So why would you want me?’

The pimp spat down into the river then grinned. ‘Taking his new man is one way to spite the bastard.’

Nottingham didn’t smile. Instead he shook his head slowly. ‘Six years ago you had a girl.’

‘I’ve had a lot of girls, laddie.’

‘She was called Molly. I saw what you did to her when you thought she was cheating you.’

The pimp gave a barking laugh. He seemed amused, not angry. ‘Rich enough to be a man of conscience, are you? But if you’re going to tell a tale, laddie, you ought to tell the whole of it.’

‘What do you mean?’ he asked.

‘I remember that lass, right enough. Swore to you she was honest, did she?

‘Yes. I believed her.’

‘Aye, well, you were young. Never believe everything you hear.’ He snorted. ‘She was taking a pretty penny from me every way she could. Told me she’d stop after I beat her but she didn’t.’ Worthy turned his eye sharply on Richard. ‘You ever wonder why she left suddenly?’ Nottingham shook his head. ‘She had ten pounds of my money in her purse. Ten pounds. Keep her for a year, that would. So think on that before you accuse me.’

‘Why should I believe you?’

Worthy shrugged. ‘You either will or you won’t. Doesn’t matter to me either way.’

‘I think you’re lying.’

‘Think what you want.  It’s all history now.’

‘I’m not going to work for you.’

‘Your choice, laddie. You’ll live to regret it, I’ll tell you that.’

Nottingham thought of Mary and how she’d be eager to hear how his first day as a Constable’s man had gone. If he worked for Worthy, all he’d want would be the shame of silence.

‘No,’ he answered firmly. ‘I don’t think I will.’ He crossed the bridge and walked back to the lodging house.

Richard Nottingham is Back

Well, sort of…this is the beginning of something, at least. What it will become remains to be seen. Maybe a book, maybe a story, maybe nothing. Still, it’s been a while since Richard had anything at all to say to me.

Perhaps you’ll like it, perhaps you’ll still care about him. Let me know, please.

Leeds, August 1736

Just two years. It always surprised him. It felt as if it should be longer, like a path that stretched out across the moor. Two years, eight months, and thirteen days. Time past, time passing. But not so quickly now, as if someone had slowed the hands of the clock.

And that suited him. More of a chance to keep memory close. To hold on to ghosts.

Richard Nottingham stirred. The dog days of summer, with brilliant light through the cracks in the shutters. He’d woken before first light, just lying in bed and letting his thoughts wander. He heard his daughter Emily leave to go and teach at her school. Then Rob Lister, her man, now the deputy constable in Leeds, had gone with his clank of keys and the firm tread of his boots across the boards. He could hear Lucy the servant moving around downstairs, opening the door to the garden and tossing the crumbs for the birds.

All around him life went on.

He poured water in the ewer and washed, then dressed in old breeches and thin woollen stockings.

The road was dusty and rutted, the hot air of the day tight in his lungs. The trees over Sheepscar Beck gave shade, the sun flickering through the leaves onto the water. He crossed Timble Bridge and walked to the Parish Church and along the path he knew so well.

Two years, eight months, and thirteen days since she’d been murdered.

Three days since someone had shattered the headstone on her grave.

He’d gone to visit his wife, to talk to her, the way he did every single day, thinking of nothing as he walked along the path he knew by heart. Just time for a few minutes of conversation, a chance to hear her voice in his head, to try and make amends again, although he knew she forgave him.

And then he saw it. The pieces smashes and scattered across the grass. For a moment he believed he was imagining it.

Why would anyone do that?

He looked around. It wasn’t only her stone. A few others, almost at random,in other parts of the churchyard. But he didn’t care about them. He knelt and gathered the fragments, piecing them together on the grave until she had her name once more Mary Nottingham. Beloved. Died 1733. Beside it, the memorial to their daughter Rose stood intact.

He’d risen and gone straight to the jail on Kirkgate, all the smells so familiar as he entered the building. But there was another man behind the desk where he once sat.

Someone prissy and exact. That was how Rob had described him. Fractious, a know-nothing who knew everything. Nottingham had listened and commiserated. But Nottingham retired. It wasn’t his problem. After so many years he’d chosen to walk away from the job and never regretted his decision. The corporation had given him the house and a small pension, enough for the little he desired.

‘Visiting old glories?’ The man had a politician’s face, smooth and shiny, the periwig clean and powdered, his long waistcoat colourful in reds and yellows.

‘I’m here to report a crime, Mr. Peters.’

The constable picked up a quill, dipped it in the ink and waited.

‘What’s happened?’

‘Someone’s been destroying gravestones at the church.’

Peters put the quill down again.

‘You’re the third one in here today to tell me. It happened last night.’

He knew that. He visited the place every morning.

‘My wife’s was one of them.’

The man chewed his lip.

‘I’m sorry to hear that. But…’ He gave a helpless shrug. ‘I have too few men and too much crime. A murder, robberies, a young man missing for a week. I’ll see they ask around and try to find something. For now I can’t promise more than that.’

Nottingham stood for a moment, staring at the man.

‘I see. I’ll bid you good day, then.’

He wandered. Down to the bridge, watching carts and carriages lumber along in the heat. He passed the tenting fields with all the cloth hung to dry and shrink, through the rubble of the old manor house and back to Lands Lane.

Sadness, anger, emptiness. Just the pointlessness of it all, the sense of loss falling on him once again.

Why? Just the question, why?

Up on the Headrow, as he walked by Garraway’s Coffee House, a sharp tap on the glass made him turn.

Tom Finer sat at the table, his hand resting against the window.

‘You look like a man with the world on his shoulders,’ he said as Nottingham settled on the bench across from him. ‘Would a dish of tea help? Coffee?’

‘No. Not today.’

Nor any other day; he’d never developed the taste for them. Ale was enough for him.

Finer was a criminal who’d vanished to London, back when Nottingham was still young, no more than a constable’s man. He’d returned eighteen months earlier, after almost twenty years away. Older and claiming to have left his past in the capital.

He seemed smaller than the last time they’d met, as if he was slowly withering away with age. In spite of the warmth Finer was well wrapped-up in a heavy coat, with thick breeches and socks.

‘You must have been to the churchyard.’

Nottingham looked up sharply.

‘What do you know about it?’

‘Nothing more than I’ve heard or seen with my own eyes. I was down there first thing. I’m sorry.’

‘Do you have any idea who…?

Finer shook his head.

‘If I did, I’d tell you.’ He paused. ‘But did you notice which ones they were?’

‘My wife’s.’

Finer was silent a few moments, chewing on his lower lip.

‘Go back there and look again,’ he suggested. ‘Look outside your own pain.’

‘Why?’ Nottingham asked urgently. ‘What is it?’

Finer stared at him.

‘You’ll see.’

He stood by Mary’s grave, his hand resting on the broken stone, and let his gaze move around. Another headstone demolished in the corner, a third by the wall. And he understood what Finer had been trying to tell him.

One was the memorial to Amos Worthy, the man who’d kept Leeds crime in his fist until the cancer rotted him and pulled him into the ground. A man he’d hated and liked in equal measure.

The other was the stone for John Sedgwick, Nottingham’s deputy, beaten and killed in his duties.

Messages for him. The past.

So Why Do I Write Historical Crime?

A number of times people have asked me why I choose to write historical crime novels. The crime part is easy to answer: it offers a good moral frame work on which to rest a novel. All fiction is about conflict in one form or another, and crime – good vs. evil – reduces it to the basics. But it also gives a chance to explore that nebulous grey area between the two, which can be the most interesting.
But historical…well, for me there are a number of reasons. I’m a history buff, most particularly a Leeds history buff. So it’s an excuse to delve into that world. But there’s far more.
I lived abroad for 30 years, and I’ve been back almost 10. That means I haven’t been there for the development of speech patterns in England. And to write convincing dialogue you need to be sure of that. I have no problem with American speech – I have novels set in the ‘80s and ‘90s there – but less in England. By going back in time, to an era that’s closed and over, it’s much easier to capture the speech of the period.
Many of my books are set in Leeds, and that gives me the chance to show how the city has changed over the years, from the 1730s to the 1950s. I try to make Leeds a character in the book, but the Leeds of 1890, industrialised and full of dark, Satanic mills, is a far cry from 1731, when the population was around 7,000 – hardly more than a village. And by 1954 and Dark Briggate Blues it’s changed completely again as we enter a post-industrial age.
And yet there’s continuity, is the layout and names of the streets in the city centre. Richard Nottingham could find his way around 160 years later, and Tom Harper from Gods of Gold would find Dan Markham Leeds relatively familiar. That sense of a thread running through it all is very attractive to a writer.
Going back in time offers the opportunity to view current events through the prism of history. The contracts handed to the gas workers that sparks the Gas Strike which is the backdrop of Gods of Gold has strong echoes in today zero-hours contracts. The anti-Semitism and xenophobia that lies at the heart of the upcoming Two Bronze Pennies can be seen in the rise of the right, Islamophobia and the very recent rise of a fresh wave of anti-Semitism.
Sometimes it’s none of that at all. Dark Briggate Blues was me asking ‘what would a 1950s English provincial noir be like?’ and offering one possible answer.
Technology and life moves so quickly that a contemporary novel can quickly seem dated. No mobile phones on computers in the ‘80s or ‘90s. We’ve only really relied on the Internet since the beginning of this century. Social media is just a few years old, and smartphones only became widespread after 2010. If you write today’s world, it’s changed by tomorrow. Setting a novel in the past, people know going in where they stand. It can’t seem dated because, in a way, it’s timeless, a scene set in amber.
And there’s one final reason. Today we rely on DNA, forensics, all manner of this and that to solve crimes. That’s fine – the tools are there, use them. But for a writer (and hopefully a reader), forcing the main character to use his wits and his brain is far more satisfying.

To 2015

Here were are, nestled at the end of a year and peeking over the parapets at what lies ahead. And, if you’re interested, I’ll tell you what’s coming up over the next few months.

Gods of Gold, the first in my new Victorian series, came out in the UK in August and in December in the US as well as in ebook form. It’s been attracting some lovely reviews, which is gratifying.

If you don’t already know, there’s a new Richard Nottingham story on this site. Click on novels, then Richard Nottingham and go to By The Law.

Next week (January 5), Dark Briggate Blues appears in the UK, and it’s a paperback (sorry, but it’ll be several months before the US version). Still in Leeds, it’s set in 1954 and features enquiry agent Dan Markham. It’s darker than many of my other books, a real noir (I think). The official launch is in early February at Waterstones Books in Leeds – if you look at my events page, you’ll see the details.

There’s one more thing to say about the book. A TV production company has asked to read it. Chances are that nothing will come of it, but the request was still very heartening.

April sees the UK publication of the second Tom Harper book, Two Bronze Pennies. At a guess, in the US it will be four months later. I think it builds on the first book and goes deeper into the characters, while exploring some of the anti-Jewish feeling that existed in the 1890s.

Then, finally, in July comes Leeds, The Biography. Regular readers of my blog will have already seen some of these stories. Essentially, it’s a history of Leeds in short stories, and the local Armley Press will be issuing it in paperback and ebook – my first non-crime book!

Of course, the serials on this site will continue, both Jimmy Morgan’s World War 1, and the tale of Annabelle Atkinson in Empress on the Corner.

I wish all of you a healthy, happy, and even prosperous New Year, and thanks to you all.