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Wednesday 15 May 2019

The Leaden Heart’ by Chris Nickson

Published by Severn House,
21 March 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8879-2

It is July 1899 and the city of Leeds is in the grip of a heatwave. Detective Superintendent Tom Harper is relieved that the crime figures are lower than usual, but soon the period of relative tranquillity ends. The first indication of trouble comes when Harper and his detectives are plagued by a clever and daring burglar that is targeting wealthy householders and escaping without leaving any clues. Because the robbery victims are rich and powerful, Harper is under a lot of political pressure to solve the crimes.

Worse is soon to come. Harper’s old friend and colleague, Billy Reed, returns to Leeds to help arrange the funeral of his brother. Charlie Reed committed suicide because of massive rent increases and intimidation by his new landlord. To his horror, Harper realises that there is a protection racket in his city, which is closely allied to a scheme to buy up properties in areas that are about to become profitable. It is clear that some very powerful councillors are involved in the property scheme, which hides behind the name of the North Leeds Company. Although Harper knows who these men are, the law protects them, and he cannot legally get access to their names to prove their involvement in dishonest dealings.

As soon as it is clear that Harper and his men have become aware of the evil that is going on in the city and that they plan to fight it, the villains take ruthless action to cover their traces and people begin to die at the hands of violent thugs. Soon Harper finds that not only is his superior under pressure to dismiss him, but also his life is threatened.

In the meantime, Harper’s wife, Annabelle, is struggling to discover the truth behind the deaths of two little girls at the hands of their father. Annabelle is one of the first female Poor Law Guardians in the city and she is determined to discover whether any of the workhouse officials were at fault when dealing with the family. Even if nobody was to blame, Annabelle wishes to ensure that the Poor Law Guardians do everything they can to prevent such a tragedy happening again, but she is frustrated at every turn by intransigent men who resent her position and will not do anything that a woman suggests.

As Harper and Annabelle struggle to ensure that justice prevails, the weather grows hotter and hotter and the city of Leeds becomes more hideously stifling and oppressively dangerous.

The Leaden Heart is the seventh book in the series featuring Tom Harper. It is an excellent historical police procedural, beautifully plotted and with a superb sense of place and time, as the old century draws to an end. However, it is the characters which are the heart of this book. Tom and Annabelle Harper are both strong, tenacious people who are determined to fight for the underdog and support each other in their various endeavours. They are both grateful for their blessings in having such a happy family life with each other and with their clever little daughter, Mary, and this is interwoven skilfully into the narrative and provides welcome patches of light amongst the dark crimes that they encounter in their roles as detective and Poor Law Guardian.

This is an enjoyable and thoroughly engaging book, which I recommend.
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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