As Britain teeters on the brink of the Boer War, the Leeds police force braces in the expectation of losing too many men just when its caseload seems impossible to manage.
The summer of 1899 is blazing hot in Leeds, adding more misery for the populace and complicating several nasty cases Superintendent Tom Harper has on his plate. His wife, Annabelle, who serves on the board of the guardians of the poor, is deeply frustrated by her inability to get the condescending men to listen to any of her ideas for improvements. The well-off are being burglarized by someone who shinnies up drainpipes while the occupants are out and helps themselves to cash and jewelry. When Harper's old friend Billy Reed, who now does his policing in Whitby, comes to town after his brother Charlie commits suicide, his visit leads to a dark and dangerous case. Reed discovers that Charlie was being squeezed by a landlord who suddenly doubled the rent on his little corner shop. An investigation reveals that shops and houses are being bought up at suspiciously low prices by the Harehills Development Company so that the son-in-law of a town councilor can build new houses. Harehills is a front for the North Leeds Company, whose lawyer is able to hide the firm’s real ownership. Charlie’s shop is trashed and his wife, Hester, beaten by two big men, possibly John and Jack Smith, an elusive pair who’ll stop at nothing. Then Hester is found dead, and an autopsy shows that she was smothered. When two of the most dishonest among the council members insist on Harper’s ouster, he and the Chief Constable suspect the councillors are involved in the vicious scheme. Another fatality chalked up to the Smiths urges the force go all out to close the case. Nickson (The Hanging Psalm, 2019, etc.) is a master at mixing social commentary with police procedurals; he digs deep into the backgrounds of his characters and highlights the inequalities so common to the Industrial Revolution while deftly handling several troubling cases.
Nickson's latest and perhaps finest is a breathless race for the truth from start to finish.