This month’s Editor’s Pick is THE HANGING PSALM by Chris Nickson.
Welcome to Leeds.
And welcome to 1820. THE HANGING PSALM is the first in a brand-new historical mystery series from acclaimed writer Chris Nickson, set in Regency Leeds and introducing thief-taker Simon Westow. Fans of the genre are in for a real treat!
Simon Westow is a skilled thief-taker who has a comfortable business finding and returning his clients’ stolen possessions. But he’s never been asked to find and return a person before…
When John Milner, a successful Leeds businessman, asks Simon to find his kidnapped daughter, Hannah, he’s suddenly facing a challenge like no other. Is it a challenge too far? Accompanied by his enigmatic and capable young assistant, Jane, Simon takes to the shadowy streets of Leeds for information, and the pair soon find themselves confronting danger at every turn. But Hannah’s disappearance is just the start. The roots of her kidnapping are darker than Simon could ever have imagined, and he soon realises that he is being taken on a journey into his own past – a journey that will lead him to an old enemy desperate for revenge. As he closes in on Hannah’s plight, the drama is only just beginning.
There is so much to get excited about in this book. Anyone who’s read one of Chris’s Tom Harper or Richard Nottingham novels will come to THE HANGING PSALM with high expectations, and Chris writes about the city of Leeds and draws his characters with all the skill and authority we’ve come to expect, peppering the story with a number of exhilarating twists and turns. It starts in the Moot Hall, with Simon answering questions before a committee about his time in the workhouse as a boy. As he recollects his experiences, the brutality of life in the workhouse and the past he has escaped from is brought to life in startling detail, and we quickly get the measure of Simon as a character. He has suffered but isn’t broken – on the cusp of turning thirty, he has a wife and two children, and from nothing he has built a comfortable life for himself and his family in the harsh environment of Regency Leeds. His resilience and sense of justice come to the fore as he tries to find Hannah. It’s clear that Simon is someone who can never be written off, even in his darkest moments, and I was immediately drawn to him.
Also worthy of a special mention is Simon’s sidekick, Jane. Like Simon, she is a complex character with a harrowing past. Jane prides herself on her ability to blend into the background, but this young woman is anything but ordinary: enigmatic, courageous yet vulnerable, a lost soul with a sharp mind and lightning quick reactions, she really is one of a kind, and I can’t wait to see her character grow in future books. Together, Simon and Jane are a fascinating and formidable pairing.
Last, but by no means least, there’s Regency Leeds at its vibrant best: the imposing mills dotting the landscape, the savagery of the workhouses, the immeasurable gap between the rich and the poor. Nickson brings the gritty, bustling streets of Leeds to life, particularly at night. He knows the history of this proud industrial city and its geography like the back of his hand – knowledge which is infused into Simon’s character as he navigates its menacing streets.
With a cast of characters as intriguing and layered as the plot itself – which keeps us guessing with some richly dramatic, heart-stopping moments – the HANGING PSALM is a brilliant first instalment in an exciting new historical mystery series. I can’t wait to get my hands on the second in the series – a genuinely mouth-watering prospect.
Watch out Tom Harper and Richard Nottingham: Leeds has a new hero!
THE HANGING PSALM is available from 28 September in the UK and 1 January in the US. Find out more here.