Thankfully, there does seem to be one vital element of life that this blasted Covid19 can’t completely disrupt: books and all things bookery. While I’m excelling at becoming a social outcast in my little patch of North Yorkshire, I’ve amassed a life-saving collection of reads to see me through until I can start on the Easter Eggs.
Madeline Bunting’s ‘The Plot’, which is a complicated and beautiful work, connects her relationship with her father (amongst many other things), with iron-age history and D-Day, all told through the lens of a one-acre piece of land just across the Vale of York from me.
‘The Pianist of Yarmouk’ is Aeham Ahmad’s true story about life and defiance under Isis in Syria. If ever confirmation that music and love will always defeat misery and tyranny – Ahmad’s testimony delivers it in the humblest and most moving way.
And Beverley Hills Book Awards Winner Janet Roger’s ‘Shamus Dust’, which transports the reader back to post-war London for an enthralling murder story, with a Cold War and colder winter backdrop. Fellow author Chris Nickson describes Roger’s debut as “Like a dirty, noir dream that thrashes in the small hours”.
Image: Nick Darcy
And it’s Chris Nickson’s ‘The Molten City’ that has spearheaded my lock-down escapism through the written word.
With the release of ‘The Molten City’ at the end of March, Nickson marks a huge milestone. A decade ago, his first foray into crime fiction was published. ‘The Broken Token’ is set in Leeds in the 1730’s and intelligently weaves actual individuals and events, with an imagined narrative.
The forensic research that clearly goes into all of his work, suggests that like many before him, he is ‘Copper’ turned writer – but he’s not. Nickson is a dyed-in-the-wool writer though. In his twenties he headed for the U.S. where he worked as a successful music journalist. Biographies on Ozzy Osbourne and Mariah Carey feature amongst some of his notable releases.
In 2005, the pull of West Yorkshire became too strong to resist and back in Leeds the groundwork for his change in direction began.
Over the past 10 years, Nickson has produced an amazing 22 books, all set in Leeds:
“The people are the heart of things in the books,” Nickson says. “But I try to make Leeds itself a character, the way it changes and grows over time. I was born and bred here, the place is in my soul.”
“I’ve covered Leeds in every decade from the 1890s to the 1950s, as well as a couple of others. Yes, I write crime novels, but for me, it’s always the people who make any book.”
‘The Molten City’ centres on the professional and personal life of Detective Superintendent Tom Harper and his wife Annabelle. This is the eighth book to feature Harper as his career and life develop and although I bashfully have to admit I wasn’t aware of this particular West Yorkshire Bobby before now – I’m hooked and have gone back to the start with ‘Gods of Gold’, Harper’s first outing in the 1890’s.
In his latest book, Nickson has meticulously studied the growing sense of unease that was prevalent in Britain in the early 1900’s. Carefully crafting a multi-layered story around a visit the then P.M. HH Asquith made to Leeds and the subsequent riot that took place is captivating, while at the same time Harper investigates allegations of children’s disappearances on his patch.
Nickson writes in a way that sets him apart as a leader of the genre. While his appeal is clearly universal, it’s perhaps a fellow northerner more than any other who will be warmed by references such as ‘a right bobby-dazzler’.
Together, Detective Superintendent Harper and Chris Nickson brilliantly pick their way through the often-upsetting norms of life in the early 20th century – and will leave the reader clamouring for more.
Nickson’s brief is straight-forward: “All I can do is try to make each book better than the one that went before. Someone once said that if you cut me open, Leeds would run through me like a stick of rock. It’s true. I’m proud of this place. If I can keep writing stories set here that people want to read, I’ll feel I’ve accomplished something worthwhile.”
To further celebrate Nickson’s literary achievements, he has just been installed as the first Writer-in-Residence at Abbey House Museum in Leeds. The Kirkstall museum looks at social history in Victorian-era Leeds and with this latest appointment, is a ‘must-do’ for us all – when normal service resumes.
‘The Molten City’ is published by Severn House – and is released on 27 March.
For more info on Chris Nickson, visit: https://chrisnickson.co.uk/
For more info on Abbey House Museum, visit: https://museumsandgalleries.leeds.gov.uk/abbey-house-museum/