Book review: The Constant Lovers, Chris Nickson

The third in Chris Nickson’s Richard Nottingham series of crime novels set in 18th century Leeds (see my previous reviews), The Constant Lovers has both a different setting and a much slower pace than the previous two books. From the blurb:

On a hot summer morning, Richard Nottingham, Constable of Leeds, is called out when a young woman is found stabbed to death among the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey, just outside the city. In her pocket is a carefully-folded love note: “Soon we’ll be together and our hearts can sing loud, my love, W.” Her pale skin and smooth hands speak of money, but no one comes to claim her body.

When the victim’s husband eventually appears, his evidence throws up more questions than answers. What happened to the maid who accompanied her mistress on her final, fatal journey? Who is the mysterious ‘W’ who signed the note? And why does the victim’s father seem so indifferent to her death? Nottingham has to delve into the dark secrets of the rich and influential to uncover the truth.

The Constant Lovers is very different in tone to the previous two books. While both The Broken Token and Cold Cruel Winter dealt with the often poverty-stricken dwellers of the city, a world that Richard Nottingham knew well and could navigate with ease, this book takes us outside of the city and into the world of the wealthy, landowning country gentlemen. Nottingham is well out of his depth in this world, and knows it, which made for an interesting change. It was fascinating seeing this capable character out of his comfort zone.

This book also saw the introduction of a new character: Rob Lister, the son of the local newspaper publisher, who joins as one of the Constable’s men (replacing Joshua Forester, who left at the end of the last book). Not exactly wealthy, but well-to-do and of a higher social class than the Constable’s deputy John Sedgwick, Rob’s introduction gives the reader the opportunity to see the poverty of city life through his outsider’s perspective. He also serves as a kind of bridge between the commoners that Nottingham and Sedgwick are most used to dealing with, and the gentry that they find themselves having to confront in the course of the book.

I did find this book a little harder to get into than the previous two. As mentioned, it has a much slower pace – especially compared to Cold Cruel Winter, which zipped along. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I did find it less gripping. Once I had got into it though, I really enjoyed the new perspective that this book is told from. It gave the historical Leeds that Chris Nickson evokes a fuller, rounder feeling.

Once again, I really enjoyed the sub-plots involving the interplay and relationships between all the supporting characters. Sedgwick’s slight insecurity following Lister’s arrival is very well played, as is the plotline involving his partner Lizzie, who is expecting a new child. I was also pleased to see that Nottingham’s daughter Emily seemed to have got a bit of her independence back in this book: I said in my review of Cold Cruel Winter that she seemed to have been pushed into the background somewhat, “cured” of her earlier, rebellious ways and recast as the dutiful, docile daughter. It was good to see her brought to the forefront again – I’d love to see a bit more of her in the next book!

A slower, more thoughtful, introspective read than the previous books in the series, this is an excellent read for any fans of historical crime fiction.

Verdict: 3.5/5

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