“Nickson is at the top of his game in this fairly clued whodunit”
Publishers Weekly Starred Review
October, 1736. Lured out of retirement to serve as Constable once again, Richard Nottingham finds Leeds very different from the place he remembers. Newcomers have been attracted by the town’s growing wealth, but the crimes remain the same, as Nottingham discovers when a body is found floating in the River Aire, its throat cut.
But he’s dealing with a new kind of criminal, someone with no respect for anything or anyone. Someone who believes he’s beyond the law; someone willing to destroy anyone who opposes him. To stop him, Nottingham will need to call in old favours, rely on trusted friendships, and seek help from some very unlikely sources.
If you’ve not yet read Chris Nickson’s latest Richard Nottingham novel, here’s your chance to dip your toe into this critically acclaimed mystery, courtesy of this brilliant extract from the book. Warning: it’s a page-turner!
The same entrance to the same court, with the sound of the river a few yards away and the creak of boats moored for loading. A mist was rising, softening the edges of the world.
As he approached, a man came up to Jane. A few words and they vanished down the passageway. The woman had a living to earn, after all. He could wait. The constable walked to the bridge and stood with his elbows resting on the stone parapet.
Shreds of fog drifted in the night air. There was no breeze, only the clinging dampness he could feel deep in his chest. He was growing old, noticing his aches and pains more and more each day and relishing the heat of a good fire to warm his bones.
A man shouted from somewhere and a voice answered before the pair of them began to laugh. A lone cart rumbled over the bridge, irons wheels rattling over the cobbles. Finally Nottingham moved. He’d given her enough time.
Jane wasn’t waiting at the entrance to the court. Another customer already? From her appearance the night before she needed all she could get. He was about to go to the White Swan for a drink and try later when he heard a groan. Not pleasure; this was pure pain. He called out her name but there was no answer.
The passage was black. No light reached this far. He had to feel his way along, heart thumping, eyes trying to pick out something, anything.
His feet found her first, touching the soft lump on the ground. He knelt, fingertips searching until he found her head, then feeling for a pulse in the neck. Jane’s flesh was still warm, but her life had gone. The man he saw must have been her killer.
There was blood on the front of her dress, wet and sticky under his fingertips. Barely dead.
He had to leave her. He needed some of the men to help. As fast as he could, he ran up to the jail, legs hurting with every stride. The night watch was just arriving. He sent one for the coroner, two more with the old door to transport the body, and another with a light to guard the scene.
His mouth was dry. Nottingham gulped at a drink of ale and saw he’d left a bloody print on the mug. It was all over him – his greatcoat, his hands. He began to clean himself but stopped – what was the point? The blood would be back as soon as he began to examine her.
‘Find Mr Lister and have him meet me there,’ he ordered as he left.
The men were waiting for him. They stood, silently watching him, all of them with dour, brutal faces. But that was who you needed to keep law in the darkness. The lantern flame flickered, enough for him to see Jane lying there. She’d drawn up her knees and thrown out her arms before she died. He must have heard her final sound.
Whores were killed. There were men who considered them fair sport. But this, just after she’d sent him her message? This wasn’t anger. This was deliberate. He could feel it.
In his mind, Nottingham tried to picture the figure he’d seen disappear down this passageway with Jane. Tall, perhaps? A hat of some kind. But it was no more than a suggestion, a faint outline in the night and the mist.
There was no peace on the woman’s dead face. Nothing more than agony, lips back in a rictus smile, eyes wide. He reached down and lowered the lids; it was the one thing he could do for her at this moment.
Hoggart came bustling through, wearing a heavy coat that reached down to his calves, the gold buckles of his shoes glittering in the light. He sighed, told the man to hold the lantern higher and squatted by the body.
‘She hasn’t been dead long, Mr Nottingham.’
‘I know. Only a few minutes.’
‘Well, there’s nothing anyone on this earth can do for her now.’ He stood, looked down at the corpse and shook her head. ‘You might as well take her away.’
She was on the slab of the cold room in the jail when Lister arrived. The candles burning in each corner of the room made it nearly as bright as day.
He had her naked, the tattered old gown cut away so he could examine the wound. In the stomach. It must have taken her a few minutes to die, and she’d done so in horrible pain. If he’d come back sooner . . . but what could he have done? He couldn’t have saved her. Nobody could, the knife had gone too deep. But he might have caught her killer.
The word pulled him back from his thoughts.
‘I saw the man who did it.’ He explained it all, from the message to the finding.
Rob was looking at the body.
‘I used to see her sometimes when I was doing my rounds,’ Lister said. ‘What did the man look like?’
Like everyone and nobody, Nottingham thought.
‘Just a shape,’ he said and raised his head. ‘She had some information for me and then someone murdered her.’ He breathed for a moment or two. ‘There’s something going on here, I’m certain of it.’
‘Boss, you remember what it’s like. We have four or five whores murdered every year. Often more.’
He knew. Sometimes they found the killer; usually there was nothing to set them on the trail. Nottingham held up Jane’s hand with its little finger missing.
‘She lasted out there for more than twenty years. This happened when she was young and she had her revenge on the man who did it. She was careful. She made sure she was never caught out.’ He picked her knife from the shelf where it sat with the few other things she’d carried. The edge was sharp as a razor. ‘She had something to defend herself.’
‘Maybe she let down her guard. He might have taken her by surprise. I don’t know.’
But Nottingham had no doubts. The man had come to kill her. And he’d given him the chance, thinking Jane could earn a few pennies before they talked.
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