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Nickson, Chris - 'Dark Briggate Blues'
Paperback: 256 pages (Jan. 2015) Publisher: The History Press ISBN: 0750960981

The club had no alcohol licence, so it was tea, coffee or orange squash, and uncomfortable chairs. Somewhere only for the jazz faithful. And when the sound took flight it was worthwhile. But not tonight.

Leeds, 1954.
Joanna Hart, an attractive blonde, thirtyish, with an educated accent - hires enquiry agent Dan Markham to find out if her husband is having an affair and with whom. Markham visits the Hart Ford showrooms and gets into conversation with its owner, Joanna's husband Freddie Hart. Later in the day Markham returns and waits for Freddie Hart to leave. He follows Hart's car, a woman seated in the passenger seat, to a country pub and photographs them with Hart's arm around the woman's waist. That evening Markham visits Leeds' one and only jazz club but the atmosphere is flat, so he moves on to a West Indian drinking club where he finds a man who gives him some background on the Harts. Next evening Markham leaves his car at Hart Ford and takes a bus, following Hart's mistress, his secretary, back to her house. He returns to collect his car and finds the place surrounded by police cars and an ambulance. He is staring at the gathering when one of the policemen, DS Baker, looks up and recognises him.
Baker turns up at Markham's office next day. What was Markham doing at the Hart showrooms about the time Freddie Hart was shot dead? Markham explains his assignment for Mrs Hart and Baker's contempt for Markham becomes plain: an enquiry agent, a man who snooped for a living, a man too young to have fought in the war. Does he own a gun? No, says Markham. But when the policeman leaves, Markham checks his desk drawer. Empty. This is the start of it all: Hart's murder, Baker's visit, the empty gun-drawer. Someone is setting him up. But who and why? Then comes the voice on the phone, asking if he is "missing something"...

Enquiry agent Dan Markham crosses the path of a powerful and frightening man, David Carter, who is set on building a business empire in Leeds. Freddie Hart had refused to sell him his car dealership so Carter made an example of him. Now he wants Dan Markham to persuade Mrs Hart to sell. In a chilling move, Carter makes it clear that he knows details about Markham's past. He also tells him that if he goes to the police, or fails to get Mrs Hart to sell - Markham's missing gun, which killed Hart - would be found. Markham wonders if he is out of his depth. Should he leave Leeds altogether? He decides to stay and fight, first of all by getting his gun back. But this decision will cost him dear and Markham comes to realise that Carter's power and vicious ruthlessness is on a scale that he has not come across before.

Chris Nickson is a prolific writer with more than one historical crime series under his belt and a raft of celebrity biographies. He has a Leeds upbringing and a music journalist background, so it should be no surprise that DARK BRIGGATE BLUES is set in the 1950s and features Leeds based, jazz-loving, private eye, Dan Markham - a man with a beautiful artist girlfriend and past training in military intelligence. In a Q&A session on the publisher's site, Nickson pays tribute to American noir detective fiction and to a British 1960s-70s TV series Public Eye - about "a down-at-heel enquiry agent". Ultimately, he says, the inspiration for the book "came down to wondering what 1950s English provincial noir might be like".

Initially I found Nickson's way of establishing of period details a bit laboured, referencing a lot of car makes and models for instance. But this self-conscious detailing eases up and gradually he allows the story to paint the period. (Nickson is not alone in religiously pegging a period setting to brand details so I was glad he stopped. Being no spring chicken, this kind of styling tends to alert my "anachronism alarm" - which is another distraction in itself.) My only other quibble is that Carter's motivation seemed not to marry with the scale of his tricks, reach and viciousness - but such is the life of crime, villains and victims. Altogether DARK BRIGGATE BLUES is smoothly written, involving and has plenty of suspense and good characterisation. With a second book in preparation, I wish "Dan Markham" well in establishing his noir investigative career.

Lynn Harvey, England
April 2015

Lynn blogs at
Little Grey Doll.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 12/04/2015 15:18