A detective inspector’s wedding takes second, or third, place to several complicated cases.
DI Tom Harper is soon to marry well-to-do widow Annabelle Atkinson, but 1890 Leeds has already been thrown into turmoil by a gas workers’ strike when Harper and his detective sergeant, hot-tempered ex-soldier Billy Reed, learn of a missing child. Col Parkinson’s wife is in jail, and he claims his little daughter, Martha, is with his sister. Since he has no sister, where is Martha? Soon Col is found hanged, leaving behind two suspects for the kidnapping: a small dark man and a big bruiser with cold, dead eyes. Although his boss, Superintendent Kendall, understands Harper’s frustration, all leaves have been cancelled because the powers that be are bringing in replacement workers, known as blacklegs. Harper, who’s sympathetic to the workers, is told to put the missing child aside for now and help keep order. When a blackleg is stabbed to death on the steps of Town Hall, the chief constable indicates that he’d be happy if Harper could prove that the killer was one of the strikers. But his investigation suggests that only council workers and the suspects in Martha’s disappearance were nearby. No one admits knowing the men or whom they work for. When the police catch the big man, he refuses to speak, even after Reed loses his temper and beats him so badly that he has to be hospitalized, and he’s poisoned before another interview can take place. Harper, who knows that a powerful man must be behind the taking of Martha and several other girls who have vanished from orphanages, continues to investigate. What he finds will shake Leeds to its foundations.
Although Nickson’s tales of Richard Nottingham (Fair and Tender Ladies, 2014, etc.) take place more than 100 years earlier, Harper faces the same disturbing inequalities in this police procedural with a social conscience.