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Monday 17 August 2020

‘The Anchoress of Chesterfield’ by Chris Nickson

Published by the Mystery Press,
17 July 2020.
ISBN: 978-0-7509-9309-8 (HB)

Imagine a time when DNA profiling, forensics labs and the Police National Computer didn’t exist. More: when there was no police force at all. There was still crime, of course, human nature being what it is; and somehow it had to be detected, and criminals brought to justice.

Chris Nickson brings this scenario to vivid and graphic life in his John the Carpenter series, set in 14th century Derbyshire, when Chesterfield’s famous Crooked Spire church had not long been built and people flooded into the town from miles around for the market. In this, the fourth of the series, it’s been six years since John was last called on by the local coroner to investigate a murder. He had hoped his detecting days were behind him, but when he is offered a small fortune to look into the death of a much-loved anchoress, he reluctantly allows himself to be pulled back into that dangerous world.

The anchoress, a nun who chose to live in total seclusion, was the favourite daughter of a lord, and a mere carpenter is not in a position to deny him his demand. Once again John sets out to find witnesses, ask questions and piece together the few clues he unearths. This time he has the help of Jeffrey of Hardwick, a spirited young man whose position in society allows him access to people John dare not approach.

The ordinary reader has no way to knowing whether Nickson’s clearly detailed research presents an accurate picture of the time, but it certainly feels right. Dusty, rutted roads; a bustling, colourful marketplace preparing for the annual fair; the well-to-do in their silks and fine wool, and the lower classes in much-darned homespun: it all contributes to a background with the ring of realism. This, and a cast of characters who warm or chill the heart, are the novel’s greatest strengths. John’s family lies at the heart of his life, and his feisty wife Katherine, sickly son Richard and lively daughters Juliana and Martha jump right off the page.

Not that the plot is lacking. John is observant, and adept at forming theories from what he sees; he moves from clue to clue, discovering and discarding, until only one conclusion remains – and it’s the one which will be least popular with his employer.

The Anchoress of Chesterfield is an excellent addition to an already outstanding series. Chris Nickson has a growing reputation as the author of meticulously researched, highly readable historical mysteries; if you haven’t discovered him yet, you have a treat in store when you do.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

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’s, 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. Chris has penned a further six series, and todate has published 31 books. For full details visit his web site. In addition to this Chris is also a music journalist, reviewing for magazines and online outlets.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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