Written by Chris Nickson — With his in-depth knowledge of Leeds and its history, and a love for writing novels set in various past eras, Chris Nickson is making quite a name for himself in crime circles. Both Gods of Gold (Victorian) and The Constant Lovers (1730s) were well received by our reviewers. Will Dark Briggate Blues make it a hat-trick?
The location remains Leeds, where Briggate is a famous old street, but Nickson has wound the clock forward from previous efforts to 1954. Dan Markham learned enough about the murky world of espionage in Berlin after World War II – dead drops, shadowing, how to lose a tail and so on – while working for British military intelligence. So, on his return to Blighty he set himself up as an enquiry agent. Business is not exactly booming, but has there ever been a commercially successful PI, Mike Hammer excepted?. Luckily there just are enough failing marriages, forged in the excitement of war but unable to survive the humdrum of peacetime, to keep him in working. When Joanna Hart comes to his office seeking proof of her husband’s infidelity, it seems like another run-of-the-mill case. The scuttlebutt has it that Joanna was a party girl who settled down not for love but for money. Her husband Freddie, set up in the car business by his wealthy parents, has plenty of the latter.
Not long after Markham takes the case poor old Freddie is shot dead. With enquiry agents as popular with the Leeds Constabulary as PIs are with police forces the world over, it’s not long before Markham is being measured up for a prison uniform by Detective Sergeant Baker, an old-school if honest copper. Markham’s confidence takes a knock when he realises he’s been fitted up. His service revolver, kept illegally like so many were after the war ended, is missing and may well be the murder weapon. A male voice at the end of the phone tells him that if he wants to get off the hook he’d better do as he’s told.
With a little digging Markham discovers there is a man, an outsider, buying up businesses and property on the cheap in Leeds, and making a little empire for himself. He’s using a combination of blackmail and strong-arm tactics to get what he wants, and what he wants next is Hart Motors. How can Markham save his client without damning himself?
Approximately one third of the way through the book the story changes from a classic PI mystery to a thriller. The identity of the blackmailer is quickly established and the focus of the remaining narrative is an increasingly dangerous battle of wits as the killer tries to bend Markham to his will, and Markham tries to bring him down.
Throughout there is lovely period detail, and I enjoyed the contrasting lifestyle of the Leeds enquiry agent compared to the standard American private eye. The changing relationship between Markham and Baker, as he slowly gains the latter’s trust, is nicely conceived and executed. Markham himself is an engaging character, and lacking in the cynicism of his hardboiled counterparts, though perhaps I would have liked a touch more grit in him.
If like I was you happen to be sceptical about a Leeds-based PI series, I urge you to put that aside and give Dark Briggate Blues a chance. It’s the start of what promises to be an interesting series.
The History Press
CFL Rating: 4 Stars