Written by Chris Nickson — The author Chris Nickson has made his name synonymous with the city of Leeds, and has set various novels and series there but during different historical eras. The Tom Harper books have a late Victorian backdrop, and began with Gods of Gold in 2014. The fourth book, The Iron Water, came out in November.
It’s now 1893 and Leeds has just gained city status. Superintendent Kendall and his men are keen to show the London boys that the detectives at Millgarth Police Station are just as good at solving the hardest of cases, if not better. It’s October, and Tom Harper has been called to watch the torpedo testing on Waterloo Lake, one of two in the recently opened Roundhay Park. However, once the torpedo is released a body surfaces in the lake, kickstarting Harper and DS Ash’s latest investigation. At the same time, a woman’s leg is found in the River Aire. Are the two deaths connected?
While the latter case is assigned to the new DC Wharton, a Chinese Wall is erected around the Roundhay Park investigation when the postmortem reveals it was murder. There’s a mole in the station, and Kendall is keen to ensure that only he, Harper and Ash are privy to the facts. Two gangs operate in the city and if one of them were responsible it could spark an all-out war. The victim, Leonard Tench, was a former colleague of Ash’s during his factory worker days, and was known to have fallen in with a bad crowd.
Superintendent Kendall believes Tench’s death is gang-related, particularly as a witness saw the body being dumped within view of the plush home of one of the gang bosses. With witnesses scared to talk to the police, the investigation seems to be moving along at a snail’s pace, much to Harper’s frustration. The body count and tensions are rising on both sides. Harper finds himself in a race against time to solve the case before Scotland Yard sends one of its best men to take over, or one of the crime bosses decides to take matters into his own hands.
Leeds has a history that Nickson isn’t just proud of, he’s put an awful lot of time and effort into becoming the city’s historical crime expert, and it shows throughout his prose. His books aren’t just historical crime fiction, they’re guidebooks to the city with all its little nooks and crannies. This particular series might just do for Leeds what Morse did for Oxford and create a Tom Harper tourist trail.
Late Victorian Leeds is a period Nickson clearly enjoys writing about. The novel flows effortlessly along, so much so that you’re quickly absorbed into the storytelling. The writing has a much stronger feel to it than Modern Crimes, which is about early policewomen in the 1920s. This may be because Tom Harper is a more developed character, but you can also tell Nickson is very fond of him. He’s a family man who is devoted to his wife and young daughter, and consciously makes an effort not to allow his work to take precedence over his home life, unless he has to. Harper is similar to Anne Perry’s Inspector William Pitt and Harper’s wife, Annabelle, plays an unofficial but strong role in assisting her husband, much like Charlotte Pitt. He’s proud of his wife and her achievements, and he accepts her help when she offers it.
The Iron Water could quite easily be read on its own as there’s enough detail about Harper’s back story to get you up to speed. Having said that, once you’ve read it, you’ll probably want to read the rest of the series anyway, though £12 for a Kindle book is expensive. You may also want to dip into Nickson’s Richard Nottingham series set in 18th century Leeds.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars