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Friday 9 July 2021

‘Brass Lives’ by Chris Nickson

Published by Severn House,
24 June 2021.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-9088-7 (HB)

Tom Harper has worked his way through the ranks of the Leeds constabulary and is now Deputy Chief Constable. Tom had thought long and hard about accepting this role because he has always been a hands-on, policeman and he disliked the idea of spending a lot of his time on administration but, after discussing the matter with his wife, Annabelle, he accepted the promotion. Now Tom has successfully established himself in a handsome office in Leeds town hall and has an efficient secretary to help keep his paperwork under control, but he still has occasional doubts about the wisdom of his choice.

It is June 1913, and many women are demanding the vote, supported by several fair-minded men. Annabelle Harper is a forceful intelligent woman, the owner and manager of the Victoria public house and a dedicated member of the suffragists, the non-militant branch of the suffrage movement. Tom and Annabelle’s only child, Mary, is twenty-one and a successful businesswoman, owning and running her own secretarial agency, and she is about to become engaged to her apprentice boyfriend. Mary respects her mother’s views, but she feels that the suffragists are ineffectual and supports the militancy of the suffragettes. Tom supports the idea of votes for women, although sometimes he has to walk carefully when the activities of both suffragists and suffragettes come to his attention in his professional capacity. The suffragists are rarely a problem, even though they have arranged a march that they call the Great Pilgrimage, where thousands of women are intending to converge peacefully on London and petition Parliament. Part of Tom’s role will be to oversee that those suffragists who converge in Leeds can hold their meeting peacefully and he is aware that there is usually more danger of them being harassed than of the women breaking the law. At the same time, two Special Branch officers are in Leeds, keeping observation on a suffragette, Lillian Lenton, who is being released from prison because she has been on hunger strike. The Cat and Mouse Act was designed to release prisoners who were growing too weak and then return them to prison as soon as they have recovered. The Leeds police are required to co-operate with the Special Branch, even though they despise them as incompetent bullies and take bets about how few days it will take them to lose Lillian Lenton.

Dealing with the suffragists and suffragettes is relatively simple and pleasant compared to the other problems facing the Leeds police. A ongoing problem is the Erin gang, which is growing more aggressive and setting themselves up as the rulers of their district in Leeds. Tom used to be in charge of this area and anticipates that the gang will need the police to take action to put them in their place, as they have before. Far more disturbing is the news that a gangster, Davey Mullen, who was born in Leeds, has returned from New York, ostensibly to visit his father, but also fleeing a violent gang war. Mullen is known to be a dangerous killer, although he has always contrived an alibi and has never been convicted; he is also known as a man it is impossible to kill, having been shot eleven times and survived. Tom is enraged when Mullen visits the Victoria public house, and he feels certain that Mullen is taunting him; Annabelle shares Tom’s anger and bans Mullen from her public house. Worse is to come when Mullen turns up at Mary’s secretarial agency; he does not harm her, but she is very shaken. Tom’s old team, now under Superintendent Ash, take over retribution and Mullen suffers a serious beating. Soon afterwards, the building where Mary’s office is situated is subject to an arson attack. As Leeds becomes a hotbed of violent crime, Tom temporarily abandons his desk at the Town Hall and moves back to work with his old team at Millgarth. He is pleased to discover that he has lost none of his ability to work the streets and outwit the villains. As well as the arson, Leeds sees several murders, some of them involving firearms, all of which seem to be connected in some way to Mullen. However, despite his dislike of the man, Tom is not certain everything is as it appears to be.

Brass Lives is the ninth book in the series featuring Tom Harper and the ominous shadow of the First World War is mirrored in the anxieties of Tom and his family. The plot is complex and fascinating, with several threads skilfully weaved together. As always in this series, the historical detail is detailed and authentic, providing a vivid and convincing insight into life in Leeds just before the Great War. The characterisation is excellent, and Mullen is an intriguing and enigmatic villain. Tom, Annabelle and Mary are engaging protagonists with a warm relationship built on love and respect. Brass Lives is a fascinating read 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. Chris has penned a further six series, and to date 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

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. 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 This Game of Ghosts click on the title.

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