Tom Harper And A Dark Steel Death

It’s not that long since The Blood Covenant was published, and I still firmly believe e it’s the best book I’ve put out…so far.

But A Dark Steel Death is coming to give it a run for its money in September. It’s the 11th Tom Harper novel, set in Leeds in 1917, the grimmest days of the Great War.

What’s it about? Sabotage, traitors…perhaps. The story isn’t as straightforward as that. Here’s a short extract from somewhere near the beginning for you to read and whet your appetite.

It’s available to pre-order from all the usual sources, but here is the cheapest, with free UK postage. However, please, do give your business to indies if you can.

Oh, keep scrolling after the extract to see the cover. It’s a cracker.

He was starting to believe that he lived in a world made of paper. It never ended: the correspondence from the War Office, the Home Office, the watch committee, divisional heads . . . the minutes of all the meetings. It was probably all important. But Tom Harper felt as if it had nothing to do with coppering. He’d cleared his desk yesterday, starting the week with good intentions. Now it was Tuesday morning and he knew he’d be buried under another blizzard of paper.

            For the last month things had been worse: Chief Constable Parker had been on sick leave with pneumonia. A week in hospital, but now he was recovering. It was a slow process; he wasn’t likely to return before March. And that meant Harper was stuck with two jobs.

            He pulled out his watch and opened the cover. Quarter to seven. Hardly light yet outside. With luck, he’d have the next fifteen minutes to himself. It might be all he’d manage in the days that began and ended while it was still dark.

            Then the telephone rang.

            ‘We have trouble, sir.’ Superintendent Ash. His voice was immediately recognizable, even turned hard and metallic on the line.

            Harper tensed. ‘Why? What’s happened? Is something wrong at Millgarth?’

             ‘Not here, sir. It’s the army clothing depot. You remember they took over the old tram sheds and the King’s Mill next door to it back in 1914?’

            Harper felt the shiver of fear crawl up his spine.       

‘Yes, of course.’ He’d been part of the group invited to tour the buildings before they opened. Ton after ton of garments sorted, inspected and bundled every week before they were sent off to the soldiers. A gigantic operation.

            ‘Two hours ago, the night watchman was making his final round at the mill.’ Ash paused, considering his words. ‘He thought he heard someone dashing off, then he found a box of matches and some torn-up newspaper in a corner. Came straight outside and reported it to the bobby on guard. His sergeant started the constables searching, then he rang me.’

            Christ Almighty, someone starting a fire in a place like that, filled with clothes . . . the place would be an inferno before anyone could stop it.

            ‘I’ve had men going through the place from top to bottom, sir,’ Ash continued.

‘What have they found?’ He was gripping the instrument so tight that his knuckles had turned white.

            ‘Nothing, sir. I’ve had them search that other depot on Park Row with a nit comb, too. It’s clean. That’s where I am right now.’

            Sabotage. It couldn’t be anything else. The thoughts roared through his head, hammering hard against his skull.

            ‘I’ll be there in five minutes.’

‘Yes, sir. I haven’t informed the army yet.’

‘Leave that to me,’ Harper promised. ‘I want someone vetting the records of everyone who works in those places,’ Harper said.

            ‘Walsh is already on it. One of the new detective constables is helping him.’

            He thanked God that Walsh was too old to go and fight. Twice he’d tried to join up; both times he’d been turned away at the recruiting station. Just as well; they needed experienced men like him to stay in the force.

            His secretary was hanging up her coat as he rushed out.

            ‘You have Inspector Collins at eight,’ Miss Sharp told him.

            ‘Tell him I’ll try to be back by nine.’

His mouth was dry and his heart beating a terrified tattoo in his chest as he dashed down Park Row. Another raw winter’s day, coming on dawn, the morning sky pale and mottled with high clouds and a thin north wind. He could have been a businessman hurrying down the street to his office, buried in his overcoat and hat. But he had more important things on his mind than profit and loss. Barnbow last month, and they didn’t know the cause yet. Now this.

            Leeds had a saboteur.

            And the police needed to stop him.

            Ash was waiting outside the warehouse. He was still a big, brawny man, but with the years he’d acquired plenty of padding. His belly jutted under the waistcoat and his neck had grown thick and fleshy. With his white hair and lined face, and the spectacles perched on his nose, he’d come to look like an old, wise man. Time had left its mark on him, but it had on them all. By rights, he and Harper should both have been put out to grass by now. But with so many good men, younger men, gone to war, they were needed. And they were working longer, harder hours than ever before.

            ‘The army will be here in a moment,’ Harper said, and nodded at the staff car racing along the road.

Brigadier Fox looked too young for his rank, barely forty, but Harper knew he’d earned it, gunned down twice in no man’s land and patched up before going back to the trenches. Now permanently back in England after a third wound left him needing a stick to walk. These days he supervised the garrison at Carlton barracks and was in charge of security at the facilities in Leeds. A war hero and his men loved him for it.

            ‘Brian,’ Harper said as they shook hands. ‘This is Superintendent Ash. You can trust him with your life. I have.’

            A nod and a smile, then Fox’s expression turned grim. ‘What are we going to do about this? We need to discover who’s behind it before he has chance to do any damage.’

            ‘Increase the patrols every night,’ Ash suggested. ‘Vary the times, so there’s no routine.’

            ‘Nobody in or out without proper identification,’ Harper added. ‘Search everyone. No matches or cigarette lighters allowed inside.’

            The brigadier opened his mouth as if to object, then stopped.

            ‘Yes,’ he agreed. ‘All sensible. We’ll do that. I’ll post a couple of armed sentries at each of the other places.’ He gave a sad, twisted smile. ‘A rifle and a bayonet can scare people off very effectively.’

            The staff car took them to the clothing depot on Swinegate. The building was faceless, anonymous, the stone black with decades of soot. Royal Army Clothing Depot was stencilled across the wide double gates, the letters beginning to fade.

The old watchman, a worried, defensive fellow with patches of white stubble on his cheeks, stared down at his boots as he told his story once again.

A Trailer…for The Blood Covenant

It’s coming…six weeks and it will be here. How about a littel trailer to tell you the heart of the book. One minute and ten seconds of your time.

From early December it will be abailable on NetGalley. If you’re a reviewer of blogger and want a copy, please let me know with your email address.

Meanwhile…remember…

This is Regency Noir.

This is necessary.

This is Leeds.

Quick! To The Library

A plea for libraries. And, yes, for me.

You love to read; I doubt you’d be here otherwise. Quite possibly public libraries were the backbone of your childhood and adolescence. A place that introduced you to a range of authors. Somewhere you could choose books and take them home for a few weeks without having to pay a penny. Older, they’re useful for reference, and still for hours of entertainment in what you choose.

Libraries, be they municipal, Carnegie, community hubs, whatever, are an invaluable part of our society. That’s true wherever you live, no matter which town, city, whatever country. We need libraries. Yet everywhere, their budgets are cut, branches have had to close. It’s not the fault of local government. Their budgets are squeezed and they need to focus on the most vital service. I understand that.

But libraries offer a vital service, too. The open up worlds. As books become more expensive, they’re harder for many on limited incomes to afford. The libraries offer them galaxies for the imagination.

Support your libraries, please. If they’re not used, then in time they will close. Future generations needs them. We need them right now.

That is heartfelt. I’ve benefitted from libraries all my life. I discovered a number of favourite writers through them that I might never have found otherwise.

And that leads into the second part, which is less altruistic. I have a new book coming out at the end of December called The Blood Covenant. I really, completely believe in it. Its springboard is the exploitation and abuse of children in the factory system of the 1820s. That was a commonplace. The difference is that two children die from it.

I want people to know that happened, and I like fighting back against those who made it possible. I’d like people to read this book.

Of course, I’d love it if you all bought copies. However, hardbacks cost money. You could request that your library buys a copy – my publisher, Severn House, is what’s known as a library publisher, after all; that’s their prime market. Borrow it from them instead.

If they put one on the shelves, it’s not only you who can read it, but any others who decide to borrow it (actually, through the Public Lending Right, authors make a few pennies every time one of their books is borrowed, which is great). It’s out there, it’s available. The days when libraries could order everything have gone, but if you ask, there’s a much better chance they’ll spend their money. You’re doing a public service.

Yes, you’re helping me, and I would truly appreciate that. I know I’m being self. But you’ll be using the libraries and that helps to keep them open. That way, we’re all winners.

Thank you. Please do request the book for your local library. And others that you want to read.

Of Podcasts And Old Leeds And Going To Farsley

This week, I’m afraid, I have a few links for you, along with a promise of an upcoming excerpt from The Blood Covenant, which comes out at the end of December. That will be next week.

But the links, well, there’s a lot of meat there. A little while ago the Leeds Library, Britain’s oldest subscription library, founded in 1768, interviewed me. It covers music, music journalism, researching history and Leeds in general. Very wide-ranging, and I bare all. Well, maybe. And you can find it right here.

As many of you may know, I love Leeds. Yeah, it’s not really a secret, is it? A couple of people say I bleed Leeds, or that if you open me up, it’s written through me, like a stick of Blackpool rock. A website posed me the interesting question, to name my five favourite books on old Leeds. It took plenty of thought, but I did come up with them. It’s right here, with my brief explanations.

Next week, November 4th, I’ll be appearing at the Constitutional in Farsley with the lovely Frances Brody, in an event put on by an excellent new indie bookshop, Truman Books. If you can, I hope you’ll come. Read about it here.

Finally, since I’m all links today, this is the cheapest place to pre-order The Blood Covenant (or Brass Lives), with free UK postage. And for the Kindle, click here.

From The Grave To The Page

Would you read this book? I hope so.

In 2016 in Leeds, archaeological excavations at the site of what is now the luxury shopping centre of Victoria Gate uncovered 28 bodies in was once burial ground of the Ebenezer Chapel. Until 1797 it had been a place of worship for Baptists, then it was taken over the Methodists. The graveyard had been closed in 1848, and the building itself demolished in 1936.

Ebenezer Chapel

That’s the background. But with the digging, the horror was about to begin. It’s what provided the inspiration for The Blood Covenant, the new Simon Westow book that’s due in December. History was unearthed and walked on to the page.

12 of those bodies were children and examination showed that nine of them had experienced diseases like rickets and anaemia. But there’s far more than that. They’d spent most of their short lives starving. Quite literally starving, in a rich, industrial city.

Dr Jane Richardson of the Archaelogical Services WYAS, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “What makes these stand out is not the fact that remains were found, but the malnutrition they show us. It was the most grim part of Leeds at the time, and malnutrition was so prevalent. You can only imagine what these children must have gone through.”

The lived in absolute poverty, according to academic Malin Holst: “We’ve analysed quite a few populations that were very poor, like in Rotherham, but these really stick out,” she said. “They lived in these hovels in the backyards of back-to-back housing, and you could only get to them through tunnels – which were so small even a coffin could [not] fit through. If you can imagine trying to get sewerage or rubbish out, or even just trying to see sunlight – impossible. Children as young as six would’ve been working 12 hours a day in factories, it was just horrible.”

Think about that. They were working, earning money. Everyone in the family would be labouring, bringing home a wage yet they had no choice but to live like that. One of the bodies belonged to a child aged between eight or ten. The growth was so stunted it looked to be three or four.

In 1834, after the cholera epidemic, Dr Robert Baker reported on various areas of Leeds to the Board of Health, pinpointing the worst places in Leeds. Of the area around the chapel, he wrote: “I have been in one of these damp cellars, without the slightest drainage, every drop of wet and every morsel of dirt and filth having to be carried up into the street; two corded frames for beds, overlaid with sacks for five persons; scarcely anything in the room else to sit on but a stool, or a few bricks; the floor in many places absolutely wet; a pig in the corner also; and in a street where filth of all kinds had accumulated for years.”

Never mind horror fiction. The facts are far worse. There were real children who lived short, terrible lives and died like that, breathing in the soot, barely seeing the sun.

The skeletons were examined on the TV programme The Bone Detectives. You can watch it here.

Reading about it, seeing the bones. That was the moment The Blood Covenant took shape. All too often, those children were abused by overseers in the mills and factories. That’s simply a documented fact.

Simon Westow had been a victim himself during his years in the workhouse and the factory.  It had stayed with him, scarred him mentally and physically. When Dr Hey handed him notes he’d made about the bodies of two factory children from Ebenezer Street, it drew out his old ghosts.

‘He made a copy of what he’d written when he saw the children’s bodies. The older boy was ten. He’d lost two fingers on his left hand when he was younger. He was covered in bruises, it looked like he’d been beaten with a stick or a strap. It was much the same with the younger one. He was just eight.’

            ‘Who did it?’ his wife asked. Her fists were bunched, fingernails digging into her palms.

            ‘A mill overseer,’ he replied.

            ‘Which mill?’

            Simon shook his head. ‘He didn’t put that in there.’

Simon is going to give those children some justice. But it going to prove harder, and far deadlier, than he’d or his assistant Jane imagined.

The cheapest place to pre-order The Blood Covenant is here and UK postage is free. It’s published at the end of December.

Well, will you read this book?

Some Bright News In Dark Times

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

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

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

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

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

And now….drum roll.

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

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

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