Leeds, England. October, 1897. Superintendent Tom Harper’s wife Annabelle is one of seven women selected to stand for election as a Poor Law Guardian. But as the campaign begins, Annabelle and the other female candidates start to receive anonymous letters from someone who believes a woman’s place lies firmly in the home. When the threats escalate into outright violence with fatal consequences, Harper knows he’s in a race against time to uncover the culprit before more deaths follow. With the lives of his wife and daughter at risk, the political becomes cruelly personal . . .
Love historical mysteries and looking for a new read? THE TIN GOD by Chris Nickson is steeped in 1890s Leeds and has women in politics – and murder – at its core. This fascinating and compelling historical crime mystery will have you hooked in no time . . . get a taster by reading this tantalising extract!
On the stroke of five, Harper pulled on his mackintosh and hat and glanced out of the window. Blue skies, a few high clouds, and a lemon sun: a perfect late autumn afternoon. Saturday, and a day away from this place ahead of him. Not free, though; he’d promised Annabelle he’d spend tomorrow walking round Sheepscar, delivering leaflets for her campaign.
Ash sat at his desk in the detectives’ office, writing up a report.
‘Did you find anything yet?’
‘Not a dicky bird, sir.’ He sighed and scratched his chin. ‘You weren’t banking on it, were you?’
‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘If there’s any trouble tonight, make sure you let me know.’
‘I will, sir. Let’s hope it’s peaceful, eh?’
It was warm enough to walk back out to the Victoria. Even if the air was filled with all the soot and smoke of industry, so strong he could taste it on his tongue, it still felt good to breathe it into his lungs after a day in a stuffy office.
‘Do you think I look all right, Tom?’ Annabelle stood in front of the mirror. She was wearing a plain dress of dark blue wool. It was cut high, to the base of her throat, modest and serious, a cameo brooch at her neck. Her hair was up in some style he couldn’t name but had probably taken an hour to engineer so it looked nonchalant.
‘I think you look grand,’ he told her. ‘Like a member of the Poor Law Board.’ He nudged Mary, who was sitting on his lap, staring in awe at her mother.
‘Da’s right. You’re a bobby dazzler, Mam,’ she said. ‘I’d vote for you.’
‘That’ll do for me.’ Annabelle picked up her daughter and twirled her in the air. ‘You’re absolutely sure?’
‘Positive,’ Harper replied. He pulled the watch from his waistcoat. ‘We’d better get going. That meeting starts in three-quarters of an hour.’ It wasn’t that far – the hall at St Clement’s, just up Chapeltown Road – but he knew she’d want to arrive early, to prepare herself, and put leaflets on all the chairs. Ellen would bring Mary shortly before the event began.
It was a fine evening for a stroll, Indian summer, still some sun and a note of warmth in the air. The factories had shut down until Monday morning, the constant hums and drones and bangs of the machinery all silenced. The chimneystacks rose like a forest, stretching off to the horizon, the dirt leaving its mark on every surface around Leeds.
Annabelle took his arm as they walked. He’d put on his best suit, the fine dove-grey worsted she’d had Moses Cohen tailor for him seven years before. It was still smart, but growing uncomfortably tight around the waist.
‘It’s going to be fine, isn’t it?’ she asked.
‘Of course it is.’ He glanced over at her. ‘It’s not like you to be so nervous. You usually dive right in.’
‘This is something new, that’s all,’ she replied after a moment. ‘And if I fail, well, it’ll be obvious, won’t it? I’d be letting everyone down who’s helping.’ She nodded at the hall, just visible behind the church, its low outline stark against the gasometers. ‘All of them who turn up tonight. If anyone does.’
‘You’ll do well.’ He kissed her cheek and grinned. ‘Trust me, I’m a policeman.’
‘I thought you lot were only good for telling the time.’
The words had hardly left her mouth when he heard the low roar. It grew louder, then a deep, violent explosion ripped out of the ground. A column of smoke plumed up from the hall, throwing wood and roof tiles and bricks high into the air.
‘Christ.’ They stared for a second, not knowing what to say. He didn’t have the words for this. ‘Stay here,’ he told her, then changed his mind. ‘No. Go home.’
Before he’d finished speaking, Tom Harper was running towards the blast.
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