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Monday 4 September 2023

‘Rusted Souls’ by Chris Nickson

Published by Severn House,
5 September 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-4483-1179-8 HB)

It is 1920 and Britain is weary and grieving in the aftermath of the death and devastation of the First World War, followed by the further deaths caused by the Spanish flu. Tom Harper, the Chief Constable of Leeds, is as damaged and exhausted as his countrymen and is constantly appalled to see large numbers of the young men who fought and were maimed for their country now begging on the streets of Leeds. As well as coping with the immense challenges of policing a large city during the wartime and afterwards, Harper has had other personal challenges to deal with: his only child, Mary, lost her fiancé at the Somme and is still mourning him, and his beloved wife, Annabelle, has been diagnosed with early senility and seems to be slipping away from them a little more each day.

Harper rose through the ranks to his present position and, after forty years serving in the Leeds police force, he is due to retire in a few weeks’ time. He has loved his work, but he is glad to retire and abandon the paperwork and civic functions that form a large part of his current  role and, although Annabelle has an excellent nurse to care for her, Harper is eager to devote more of his time to her.

Harper’s last few weeks are destined to be eventful. First of all, he is approached by Alderman Thompson, a bombastic, influential man who had used his power to help Harper to attain his current office. Now Thompson has been very foolish and needs Harper’s help. He had an affair with a glamorous young woman, wrote some compromising letters and is being blackmailed because of them. Thompson is terrified that he will lose his reputation and is requiring payment of Harper’s debt to him by demanding that Harper finds the incriminating letters without going through official channels. Harper doesn’t like the clandestine nature of Thompson’s requirements, but he recruits a small team of his most trusted detectives to investigate.

A serious threat to public order in Leeds arises when four young men start a series of raids on jewellery shops, they use guns to intimidate people and take advantage of the fact that several innocent people are still wearing face masks because they are afraid of contracting the Spanish flu. The gang are well organised and ruthless and are willing to kill if anybody tries to stop them. As the hunt for them heats up, their actions become increasingly violent and their challenge to Harper and the authority he represents becomes increasingly personal.

A third problem is the news that an organised gang of women shoplifters are travelling up from London to target northern cities, descending on shops like a plague of locusts and picking them clean. This is less serious than the raids on jewellery shops, but it is still a drain on police resources, and causes a loss that shopkeepers can ill afford.

The last weeks of Harper’s tenure as Chief Constable are as demanding as any that he has endured during his long years as a police officer and, while he has to control the over-all challenges of policing the whole city, he also finds himself more involved in on-the-ground police work than has recently been possible. As the conclusion of the cases draws near, Harper’s determination to always lead his men from the front proves to be increasingly dangerous to his own life.

Rusted Souls is the eleventh book featuring Tom Harper. It is an excellent series, and this book is as superb as its predecessors. It is a dark, thought-provoking book, exploring in subtle and clever ways, the devastation caused by the Great War. Despite the sadness at its core, it also has positive messages in the enduring love Harper feels for Annabelle and, in her few lucid moments, the love she displays for him. Also, Mary Harper moves through her mourning, not forgetting her dead fiancé but starting to embrace her own life. After she visits the battlefield where her fiancé had died, she casts off her heavy black clothes for bright modern fashions and buys a car, an act of independence that her courageous, suffragette mother would have heartily approved of. Rusted Souls is set a century ago, but it deals with issues that are very relevant today. It has a complex, multi-stranded plot, which is bound together by a mutual theme, the after effects of war. The characters are warm, believable and engaging and the historical detail is authentic.

This is a series that I would recommend reading from the beginning and I envy those readers who are about to have the pleasure of discovering it for the first time. Rusted Souls is a thought-provoking, powerful page-turner, that I wholeheartedly 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 click on the title

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