Nickson, Chris - 'The Constant Lovers'
This is Chris Nickson's third crime novel, following on from THE BROKEN TOKEN and COLD CRUEL WINTER, which are all set in Leeds in the early 1700s, and feature the Constable of Leeds, Richard Nottingham, and his deputy John Sedgwick. These books are characterised by Richard's frequent strolls through Leeds, where he gains information from talking to various people, in inns and pubs, in the market, and he generally takes in the local life in Leeds of the period. As this book begins, he doesn't have anything too taxing to deal with, just the case of a couple of thieves, a girl hired to be a maid who has disappeared a few days later with some money and fine lace handkerchiefs, and a similar story involving a young lad.
But then comes news of the discovery of a dead body out in the countryside about three miles away at Kirkstall Abbey. The Constable hires a horse and goes to have a look. He finds the body of a young girl, dressed in fine clothes with a knife in her back. Despite the fact that she obviously comes from a wealthy family, no one seems to know who she is. The Constable arranges for the body to be brought back to the mortuary, but without any identification, they have to wait until a girl is reported missing. Within a few days, the oppressive heat forces him to arrange for the girl to be buried in a pauper's grave. Then, her husband, a wealthy farmer arrives to report her missing. He says he has only just become worried about his wife, Sarah Goodlove, as she was supposed to be visiting her parents, Lord and Lady Gibton, for a few days. But then she didn't return. On questioning Sarah's parents, they claim that she never arrived, but don't appear to be too shocked to discover that their only daughter has been murdered. They are a strange cold family, who apparently profited financially from the marriage of their daughter to the wealthy farmer, raising them out of their previously reduced circumstances. Even more worrying to the Constable is the news that Sarah had a maid with her, Anne, who is also missing, although the maid is apparently invisible to the wealthy farmer and Sarah's family. The Constable is very worried that she has also been killed.
Then another body is found, this time a suicide, a man called Will Jackson and a a junior partner in one of the cloth dressers (men who finish off cloth before it was made into clothes). Why would a man with a good business kill himself? Is there a link to the murder of Sarah? The Constable goes to Will Jackson's home with a new member of his team, Rob, whose educated background means that the Constable can set him the task of reading through all of Will's correspondence, to look for clues to Will's life, and for any links with Sarah.
Into the mix are various back stories, including trouble with his daughter Emily, John Sedgewick's home life, a stand off between Amos Worthy, a criminal character who runs several local brothels, and a new man called Hughes, who is trying to steal his business, and the continued actions of the two thieves, and the threat of retribution for their actions outside the law that the Constable has to deal with.
THE CONSTANT LOVER is a rich book, full of threads and asides, which are skilfully brought together. I particularly like the doggedness of the Constable, and his long patience in following the slightest clue to get to the truth of the crimes he is investigating. Sedgewick and Rob make good foils to the Constable, each with their own particular skills and usefulness. The setting of Leeds in the 1700s provides some interesting background colour to the story. The writing in Chris Nickson's books improves with each new book, and deserves a wider readership. An enjoyable read and I look forward to the next one.
Michelle Peckham, England