Superintendent Harper works a case that threatens his wife.
One of the few rights Englishwomen have in 1897 is the ability to serve as Poor Law guardians. Tom Harper is fiercely proud of his wife, Annabelle, who not only runs a successful pub in Leeds, but is also standing for election as a guardian of the poor. Annabelle and the other female candidates have been getting threatening letters that are obviously written by an educated man who feels threatened by women. As Annabelle and Harper approach a hall for her first speech, it explodes, killing the caretaker. Harper asks the Army bomb experts to search every hall where election meetings will be held by women. Because the only clue is a piece of paper bearing the words of a song, Harper calls on Frank Kidson, an expert on old and obscure folk songs, for help. Another candidate is snatched off the street and threatened with rape if she does not withdraw. As more bombs are disarmed, the female candidates are all offered police escorts, and when the killer tries to snatch Harper’s daughter, Mary, on her way home from school, Harper’s whole team is roused to find him. More bombs are discovered, each with a bit of folk song describing the death of a woman. Although some of the women drop out, especially after the husband of one of them is knifed to death, Annabelle presses on, her fiery speeches and common-sensical ideas going over well with the voters. Frustrated and fearful for his family, Harper never gives up pursuing a killer as lucky as he is clever.
An excellent character-driven procedural. Nickson (On Copper Street, 2018, etc.) uses the historical battle for women’s rights to expose the prejudice and misogyny that still persist today.