Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


Posts Tagged ‘1700s’

COLD CRUEL WINTER by Chris Nickson: Book Review

1732 was a terrible winter in Leeds, England. Ice and snow covered the streets, and people died every day due to the extreme weather, lack of food, and lack of heat.  It was indeed cold and cruel, especially for the poor.

In Chris Nickson’s second novel in the Richard Nottingham series, the constable is grieving for his beloved older daughter who died of a fever a few weeks before the book opens.  And now the constable must face more deaths, these not due to weather or illness but murder.

Leeds in the 1700s is a city made wealthy by the wool trade, and the mayor and the Corporation that run the city want its citizens, or at least its wealthy and worthy ones, to feel safe and protected.  But when John Sedgwick, the constable’s deputy, finds a corpse in the road, the period of relative tranquility is over.  Upon closer examination, the body of successful wool merchant Sam Graves has not only been stabbed but skinned, his back unprotected by its natural covering.

Shortly afterwards, constable Nottingham receives a package.  In it is a book entitled Journal of a Wronged Man in Four Volumes, and as Nottingham reads it he comes to realize that its binding is the skin of the murdered man. The journal’s author tells of being badly treated years ago by Graves, who was his employer; he was transported to the West Indies for seven years for the crime of stealing from Graves, his attempt at revenge for what he viewed as low wages for a man of his skills.  Since this volume states that it is the first of four, it is up to Nottingham to figure out who the other three potential victims are and to protect them.

In addition to the desperate hunt for Sam Graves’ killer, Nottingham has another murder on his hands.  This is the murder of Issac the Jew, the only one of his religion in the city.  Nottingham quickly learns that two brothers are the guilty ones, but their father is a powerful man in the city’s Corporation who has managed to get many previous charges against his sons dismissed.

The characters in Cold Cruel Winter are strongly drawn. The constable and his deputy, the teenage boy who works for them, the two arrogant Henderson brothers, the city’s pimp whose offered help makes Nottingham nervous, all these come across to the reader as real people.  And reading the twisted words in the journal gives one an insight into what has warped its author into the killer that he is.

The city of Leeds, too, comes alive in Cold Cruel Winter.  One is taken back to a time when, for the poor, illumination meant a single candle, heat was perhaps some coal dust, and clothing was little more than rags.  It was a cruel time indeed.

The Library Journal chose this novel as one of 2011’s best. It’s easy to see why.

You can read more about Chris Nickson at his web site.