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Saturday 15 December 2018

‘The Hanging Psalm’ by Chris Nickson

Published by Severn House,
28 September 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8331-0 (HB)

The Hanging Psalm is set in Leeds in 1820, where Simon Westrow works as a thief taker. It is a hard life, which involves frequent danger, but Simon is happy with his lot. His parents died when he was a four-year-old child and he was brought up in the workhouse and, from the age of six, subjected to the brutality of work in the mills. At that time, it seemed impossible that he would ever have a house of his own, and a wife and two adored twin sons. Simon and his wife, Rosie, are determined that their family will be safeguarded, and their children will never endure what Simon suffered. Also living with the family is Jane, Simon’s assistant, a young girl who has been emotionally maimed by the cruelty she experienced earlier in her life. Jane is remarkably good at her job, especially following people without being noticed and discovering useful information, and she has an uncanny gift, akin to that of a feral animal, for knowing when she is being watched or followed. Despite her youth, Jane is skilled with the knife that she always carries and can kill efficiently and without a qualm.

As a thief taker, Simon accepts commissions from wealthy people who have been robbed of valuables. If he recovers them, he returns them and tells his employer the identity of the thief, but it is up to the employer whether he prosecutes the person responsible. It is a new experience when a wealthy factory owner, John Milner, commissions Simon to recover his daughter, Hannah, who has been kidnapped. Simon has never tried to retrieve a person before but, officially, Hannah is property, belonging to her father.

As Simon, Rosie and Jane pursue their most difficult case, they discover that it has more hazards than usual, and it is not just Hannah’s life that is in danger. A vicious enemy from Simon and Rosie’s past threatens to destroy them and the happy life they have worked so hard to achieve.

In his historical novels, Chris Nickson excels at bringing the unrelenting struggles of the poor for survival to vivid, tangible life. The Hanging Psalm is the first in a new series featuring Simon Westrow and it achieves, apparently effortlessly, this empathy with the people and the time. Nickson’s historical detail is skilfully interwoven with the narrative and totally convincing; the plot is well-paced, and his central characters are engaging. Although writing about a time when women were the property of men, the author creates strong, courageous and credible women, who share the decisions and dangers, and men who have the intelligence and confidence to welcome this. Simon and Rosie are two such people, and so, in her elusive way, is Jane.

The Hanging Psalm is the start of another great series and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a book that I would recommend to anyone who loves historical fiction with likeable working-class characters and a feeling of deep-rooted authenticity.
Reviewer: Carol Westron
Chris Nickson was born and raised in Leeds. He is the author of the Richard Nottingham books, historical mysteries set in Leeds in the 1730s and featuring Richard Nottingham, the Constable of the city, and his deputy, John Sedgwick. The books are about more than murder. They're about the people of Leeds and the way life was - which mean full of grinding poverty for all but the wealthy. They're also about families, Nottingham and his and Sedgwick, and the way relationships grow and change, as well as the politics, when there was one law for the rich, and another, much more brutal, for everyone else. In addition to this Chris is also a music journalist, reviewing for magazines and online outlets

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.

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