Written by Chris Nickson — Alongside the current popularity of period drama, there seems to be a growing interest in historical crime fiction. Certainly plenty of books imagining various crime stories of the past are being published. The Constant Lovers is the latest in the Richard Nottingham series by Chris Nickson, and it’s set in the author’s home city of Leeds back in the summer of 1732.
Nottingham is the constable of the city, employed by its corporation to police the area. After all, cutpurses and whores abound. The lucrative trading of fine wools in the city’s cloth halls means there’s money to be made, and stolen – but for anyone who’s caught it means a jig on the gallows. Indeed, the book opens with the hanging of a thief. So welcome to 18th century Leeds.
Nottingham’s only current case is to find a pair of thieves who pose as servants but rob their employers and abscond, but the story gains momentum when he’s summoned to Kirkstall Abbey, the 12th century ruin just outside Leeds. A body has been found – a well to do girl stabbed to death with a bone-handled knife. There’s a note in her pocket summoning her to meet a mystery somebody. He eventually identifies her as the wife of a rich local farmer called Godlove, and the daughter of Lord and Lady Gibton. Her servant girl Anne is missing too.
Before long they must bury the body because it’s rotting in the summer heat. Besides a lack of refrigeration in 18th century England, Nottingham’s challenges are numerous. Getting information from the rich and powerful families invovled is difficult, with class attitudes made obvious by the Gibtons. In the sub plot, a gang war is breaking out in Leeds as a new pimp tries to rumble the territory of the notorious Amos Worthy. The latter is also hunting down the previously mentioned male-female servant thieving team because they’ve stolen from him.
It may sound complex but it’s told in plain fashion – you’d expect no less from a book set in Yorkshire. The city is well portrayed in the book. There’s even an old map in the front, indicating key locations like Kirkgate, the jail, Boar Lane, the parish church and so on. Plenty happens as personal issues arise for the main characters which are well developed. Sometimes however the author indulges in too much characterisation and cultural accuracy. They seem to gaze into the churchyard, or stop for small beer and mutton pies every other page.
Nickson has studied the history of the area and the 18th century very well and if authentic Yorkshire is what you’re after you’ll enjoy this book a great deal. This Constant Lovers is a solid book that works social classes and interesting local factors into a period police investigation very well. But it might not grip you all the way through.
Creme de la Crime
CFL Rating: 3 Stars