The Hanging Psalm

Leeds, 1820.

Simon Westow makes a good living as a thief-taker. The boy who grew up in the workhouse has become a success, finding and returning the stolen possessions of the rich – for a fee. But when mill owner John Milner hires Simon to find his kidnapped daughter, Hannah, he faces a challenge like no other.

With his enigmatic and deadly young assistant, Jane, by his side, Simon’s search takes him through the dark underbelly of Leeds, where poverty, industry and death live cheek by jowl. But he soon comes to understand that the real answers lie in his own past, and an old enemy seeking revenge . . . 


There first review for the book is in, and it’s a corker.

“…his Leeds across the generations, is up there with the best. Think of the subtleties of a Rembrandt portrait, every line and wrinkle faithfully reproduced, but also think of that great painter’s warmth and the deep compassion of his vision”  “this novel casts a more sombre shadow than previous Nickson Leeds novels. Westow certainly carries deep psychological scars from his institutional upbringing, and Jane is a very dark, complex and troubled soul.”

Read it all here

A glowing review from best-selling writer Joanne Harris on Goodreads.

jh hanging psalm

The first US review has arrived, and definitely two thumbs up from Publishers Weekly:

Nickson (The Tin God) movingly depicts the plight of the lower classes in 1820 Leeds—and upper-class indifference to them—in this solid series launch. At age 30, Simon Westow, an orphan who grew up in a workhouse, has created a comfortable life for himself as a thief-taker, who recovers items stolen from the rich for a fee. An unusual and highly lucrative job comes from John Milner, a wealthy property owner, who hires Simon to recover his kidnapped daughter of marriageable age, Hannah. Hannah’s abductor demands £1,000 to return her unharmed, and Milner in turn offers Simon a fifth of that amount to retrieve her before the ransom is due. Simon starts by exploring a motive for the crime beyond financial gain, focusing on Arthur Standish, who hoped that Milner would agree to Hannah marrying Standish’s oldest son. The story line shifts in a surprising direction after Simon narrows his suspicions as to the kidnapper’s identity. Simon’s humble background makes him a welcome contrast to such aristocratic Regency sleuths as C.S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr.

A glowing review from Kirkus. Read it all here:

“An exciting debut for the third of Nickson’s Leeds-based detectives (The Tin God, 2018, etc.). Filled with his trademark social commentary and steeped in Regency atmosphere, it holds your interest from beginning to end.”

Booklist definitely likes it, too:

“Simon Westow is a thief-taker in nineteenth-century Leeds, England. For a fee, he can be hired to recover lost or stolen property, and his success has helped him build a thriving business. So it’s not surprising when wealthy businessman John Milner approaches Simon to ask him to find Milner’s daughter, who has been kidnapped. Simon’s never been asked to find a person before, but for the two gold sovereigns Milner offers, he’s willing to try. Unfortunately, he can’t find a trace of the girl. Simon eventually learns, to his shock, that Hannah’s kidnapping is part of a much larger plot planned by Julius White, an old dangerous enemy who was convicted of murder on Simon’s evidence and transported to Australia a decade earlier. Simon thought White was gone for good, but it appears he’s back and out for revenge against everyone in Leeds who ever offended him, particularly Simon. This gripping read offers authentic period ambience, vivid characters, crisp dialogue, and plenty of twists.”

Mystery People‘s reviewer definitely enjoyed the book.

“In his historical novels, Chris Nickson excels at bringing the unrelenting struggles of the poor for survival to vivid, tangible life. The Hanging Psalm…achieves, apparently effortlessly, this empathy with the people and the time.”

HS review MP

The Historical Novel Society seem to like the book: “As will be expected from Nickson, characterization is strong, and it’s the main driver of this procedural mystery. Westow has his own infallible moral compass and structured pursuit of justice; wildcards such as sidekick Jane (think deadly ninja waif) add color. ” (I love that description of Jane). Read the whole review here.

This blog review is absolutely delicious – read the entire thing here.

“With each movement, the tension in the narrative built up like a crescendo as it reached toward its conclusion. I thought I knew what was going to happen regarding one of the characters, and it filled me with dread because I didn’t want it to happen. There were twists and times when it didn’t look so good for Simon and his assistant, Jane.”

And this – which I missed when it was first published, from Library Journal:

“Simon Westow has gained some renown throughout Leeds, England, as a thief-taker—someone who locates stolen property and turns it, and the thief, over to the wealthy owners. When he’s tasked with finding John Milner’s kidnapped daughter Hannah, Simon takes on the case, though he’s never before conducted such a search. As Simon and his capable assistant Jane look for clues, they discover an enemy from the past who always seems to be one step ahead, who won’t stop until he’s sought revenge on everyone Simon holds dear. This dark tale features a strong and sympathetic hero as well as equally appealing supporting characters. While the story sometimes gets bogged down in the details of life in 1820s Leeds, the mystery is fulfilling overall.

VERDICT Nickson (“Richard Nottingham” and “Tom Harper” series) once again travels back in time in a new Leeds-set mystery that is likely to draw in readers of Andrea Penrose, Charles Finch, and Anne Perry.”