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Saturday, 18 April 2020
‘The Molten City’ by Chris Nickson
It is September 1908 and Tom Harper, a Detective Superintendent based in Leeds, is attending the funeral service of Inspector Billy Reed. Reed had transferred to Whitby several years earlier but the two had remained friends. Tom is shocked by his pal’s sudden death and the event causes him to consider his own mortality and becomes a theme running through the novel.
Of course, the busy DS has little time for reflection, and thoughts of Billy’s death are temporarily displaced when Harper receives a letter of commendation from King Edward VII himself. He earned the accolade when he successfully planned and oversaw the monarch’s recent visit to the Yorkshire city. Before he can bask in the honour, however, Chief Constable Crossley informs the station that Prime Minister Herbert Asquith is also to visit Leeds in the very near future. This is likely to be a far less convivial affair and militant suffragettes as well as unemployed workers are already threatening to cause trouble.
Harper is hard at work augmenting his team to ensure - Asquith’s, as well as the public’s, safety during the Prime Minister’s time in Leeds. Then, he receives an anonymous letter that has unsettling information about the abduction of a young boy, Andrew Sharp, fifteen years earlier. Harper quickly discovers that the boy’s disappearance has been, at best, mishandled and that the initial investigation was cursory in the extreme. The DS is forced to juggle his preparations for the ministerial visit with his desire to get justice for the child who was badly let down by his colleagues so many years before. He re-opens the case and initial witnesses are identified for interview – that’s when things take a turn for the worse.
The public and political narrative of Asquith’s visit to Leeds is juxtaposed with the domestic tragedy of Andrew’s disappearance. Harper’s family life weaves between these two major plots. Annabelle, his wife, and their 16-year-old daughter, Mary, are involved in the suffragette movement, but tempers flare when Mary decides that direct action is the best way to achieve women’s right to vote. In addition, Annabelle has an important decision of her own to make; one which threatens her own future as well as that of her husband and daughter.
The use of factually accurate events around which to build the novel is enriched by the author’s knowledge of Leeds and its environs. The writing style is succinct, clear and crisp, it complements the pace of the narrative, creating tension which increases as the day of the Prime Minister’s visit looms ever closer. I found it impossible to put the book down and read it in one sitting.
The Molten City is the eighth Tom Harper mystery; it is, however, the first of the series that I have read and works perfectly as a stand-alone. It is an excellent read, interesting, informative, very enjoyable and I highly recommend it.
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent
Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties. She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues. Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.