In this police procedural, Detective Inspector Harper has been a member of the force for six years. Prior to achieving his current rank, which lets him investigate in plain clothes, he patrolled the streets in the poorer areas of the city. When a constable on his former beat brings the disappearance of an eight-year-old girl to his attention, Harper wants to launch a thorough investigation.
However, Leeds’ Chief Constable orders him and all of his coworkers to set aside their current cases to devote their whole attention to the gas workers’ strike. The gas commission is bringing in replacement workers (“blacklegs,” Harper calls them), and the situation is bound to turn violent. Harper’s frustration is immense and palpable. He knows the longer that young Martha Parkinson remains unaccounted for, the more difficult it will be to find her – if she’s even still alive.
Then Martha’s father, Col Parkinson, is discovered dead – and a "blackleg" is subsequently stabbed on the town hall steps. Two separate crimes, which pull him in opposite directions and increase his stress level further.
The story begins in medias res, as Harper’s chasing down a pickpocket on Briggate, the main street of Leeds’ popular shopping district. From the start, I had the sense that I was stepping right into the characters’ lives; their backgrounds were filled in so well that I felt they must have existed before I opened the book. Despite the exasperating circumstances he faces at work, Harper’s personal life is looking up. He looks forward to his wedding to Annabelle Atkinson, a young widow, and he derives comfort from her warm personality and confidence. She’s a business owner who has the greater income, and I enjoyed their interactions.
At this time, as Nickson mentions, Leeds is home to about 400,000 people, and he conveys the widespread disruption caused by the gas strike while keeping the cast of characters manageable. I came away with a good feel for daily life in this industrial city, with smoke from its many factories hanging in the air, “the stink of industry the price of the town’s success.” During the strike, with no gas being produced, business grinds to a halt, but the air smells cleaner.
For those seeking out a historical mystery in a well-described urban setting, Gods of Gold is a great place to start.
Gods of Gold was published by Severn House in 2015 ($17.95, pb, 224pp). The Kindle price is $6.15.