Today I am delighted to be sharing a review for Chris Nickson’s latest instalment in the Tom Harper Mystery series, The Leaden Heart. There is simply not enough space to cover all the good that I have to say about this baby. It’s the perfect blend of a period police procedural, subtle feminist undertones, and intricate character dynamics. It’s punchy, quick paced, and the perfect read for when that quintessentially Canadian spring snow storm leaves you trapped inside for the evening.
Title: The Leaden Heart
Author: Chris Nickson
Publisher: Severn House
Expected Publication Date: July 1, 2019 (USA)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Police Procedural
Themes: Murder, Crime, White Collar Crime, Family, Women’s Suffrage
My Rating: 5/5
Leeds, England. July, 1899. The hot summer has been fairly quiet for Detective Superintendent Tom Harper and his squad, until a daring burglary occurs at an expensive Leeds address. Then his friend and former colleague, Inspector Billy Reed, asks for his help. Billy’s brother, Charlie, a shopkeeper, has committed suicide. Going through Charlie’s papers, Billy discovers crippling rent rises demanded by his new landlord. Could these have driven him to his death? As Harper investigates, he uncovers a web of intimidation and corruption that leads back to the mysterious North Leeds Company. Who is pulling the strings behind the scenes and bringing a new kind of misery and violence to the people of Leeds? Harper is determined to unmask the culprits, but how much blood will be shed as he tries?
Okay. I’ve been in love with Chris Nickson’s writing ever since I had the pleasure of participating in the blog tour for The Tin God, so I will give you the head’s up now that I am very, very biased in writing this review! I mean, you (or maybe just I) gotta love when strong, feminist fiction features the kind of swoon-worthy and supportive male leads seen in Tom Harper and Billy Reed. There’s nothing steamier than a strong man who dotes on their child, is active in their upbringing, and says to their wife not only are you a successful business owner but I’mma gonna support you in all your endeavours even when society wants nothing more than to hold you down. It seriously makes my ovaries hurt.
Give me more.
Now that I’ve got the mushy-gushy swooning aside, let’s talk about the action. The crimes in Harper’s latest mystery are a departure from what we’ve seen before, with an introduction to white collar crime and political corruption. I loved the mental challenge of following the paper trail, and the frustration of knowing the criminal without having the evidence to pursue them. The addition of the wealthy elite and the legal loopholes throwing up roadblocks at every opportunity had me cursing in frustration, my hackles up every time the councillors tried to pressure Tom at work, and drove me over the edge when those political manipulations bled over into Annabelle’s work with the Guardians.
But this baby isn’t all paper trails and clandestine meetings in smoky pubs, there’s a juicy sub-plot filled with murders, robberies, and good old-fashioned police work. Deeply immersed in gangland brutality and aided by a quirky coroner, these gritty crimes added a health dose of action to an otherwise heady case. Although it broke my heart that these murders revolved around Billy Reed’s family, taking the lives of both his brother and sister-in-law, further straining the tenuous start to a repaired relationship between Harper and Reed.
I loved the dynamic in Millgarth as well. With everyone working together as a team, officers having each other’s backs regardless of their ranks, and a willingness to acknowledge and play to each man’s individual strengths and aptitudes. I appreciated Ash’s quick mind, Sission’s geeky love of Latin, and Crossley’s running interference to protect everyone from the town councillors. I felt Tom’s pain as a Superintendent as the Boer War approached, and the reality of having to replace his men with volunteers while the city’s at it’s most vulnerable.
And Annabelle’s arc can’t go unmentioned either. It was fun to follow her word as a Poor Law Guardian after her landmark election, and simultaneously disheartening to witness her struggle as a woman making waves in man’s world. It’s always heartbreaking to see someone wanting to make a difference, but not knowing how, and even more so when those that are meant to be engaged in fixing the problem aren’t even willing to have the conversation. And it was timely too, as even though Annabelle’s story highlights the still persistent disparity between policy and practice when it comes to aiding those in need.
Beautifully written and packed with period details, Nickson will draw you in and leave you wanting more. Full of twists, turns, and bumps in the road The Leaden Heart is a carefully crafted balance between thrilling crime and interpersonal drama. I’m excited to see what comes next for the Harper, the team at Millgarth, and especially for Annabelle and her fight to change world.
Read it book lovers, this baby is fantastic!
Chris Nickson has written since he was a boy growing up in Leeds, starting with a three-paragraph school essay telling a tale of bomb disposal when he was 11. That brought the revelation that he enjoyed telling stories, and then more stories, teenage poetry, and music, as both a bassist and then a singer-songwriter-guitarist.
Chris spent 30 years living in the US, playing in bands and writing. He’s made a living as a writer since 1994. Much of his work has been music journalism, combining the twin passions of music and writing, specialising in world and roots music. His reviews and features are published in print and online, notably with fRoots, Sing Out!, emusic.com, and allmusic.com. He’s also the author of The NPR Casual Listener’s Guide to World Music.
Chris has also published 28 other non-fiction books, most of them quickie biographies, and has had a pair of one act plays staged in Seattle. His short fiction has appeared in several small magazines, and in the anthology Criminal Tendencies. A collection of his short Leeds fiction appeared under the title, Leeds, The Biography.
He moved back to the UK in 2005. The Broken Token was published by Creme de la Crime in 2010. The second of the Leeds novels featuring Richard Nottingham appeared in hardback in May 2011 with the third and fourth (The Constant Lovers and Come the Fear) appearing in 2012. The fifth and six in the series (At the Dying of the Year and Fair and Tender Ladies) arrived in 2013. The seventh novel, Free From All Danger, will appear in October 2017, Cold Cruel Winter was named one of the Best Mysteries of the Year in 2011 by Library Journal, and the audio book of The Broken Token was one of the Independent on Sunday’s Audiobooks of 2012.
Emerald City and West City Blues, two books featuring Seattle music journalist Laura Benton, are available on ebook and audiobook.
The Crooked Spire is set in Chesterfield in 1361 and can be found in paperback and ebook, as can the sequel, The Saltergate Psalter. The final volume in the trilogy, The Holywell Dead, will appear in 2017.
A series set in Leeds in the 1890s features Detective Inspector Tom Harper. Gods of Gold is the first volume, followed by Two Bronze Pennies, Skin Like Silver, The Iron Water, and On Copper Street. The Tin God is scheduled for publication in May 2017.
Dark Briggate Blues is a 1950s noir, with enquiry agent Dan Markham and also taking place in Leeds, as does The New Eastgate Swing, the second volume to feature Markham.
Lottie Armstrong, one of the first policewomen in Leeds, was the heroine of Modern Crimes, set in 1924. She reappears 20 years later in The Year of the Gun.
Chris is also the author of Solid Air – The Life of John Martyn. This appeared as an ebook and print on demand in June 2011, along with John’s posthumous album and a tribute CD that features many major names.
Web site: https://chrisnickson.co.uk/