Book review: Come the Fear, Chris Nickson

Come the Fear is the fourth book in Chris Nickson’s Richard Nottingham series of historical crime novels (previous books reviewed here). From the blurb:

March, 1733. Richard Nottingham, Constable of the City of Leeds, joins others trying desperately to put out a fire in an empty house before it destroys the entire street. The next morning, searching the blackened ruins, he finds the charred corpse of a girl, something placed on her chest. Had the fire been started to conceal her murder?

Starting with just a single clue, Nottingham his deputy John Sedgwick and Rob Lister slowly piece together the girl’s past, a journey that takes them into the camps of the homeless, the homes of rich merchants, down and the poor and those beyond hope, deep into the dark secrets and lies that families keep hidden.

This book takes a darker turn than the previous one, The Constant Lovers. It’s similar in tone and pace to the second book, Cold Cruel Winter – which was my favourite up until now! I absolutely loved this book. In my opinion, it’s the strongest of the series so far.

Warning: review contains spoilers for the previous books in the series.

The central mystery of the book – who was the girl in the fire, why was she killed, and why did the killer mutilate her in the way he did – is gripping in itself, with enough wrong turns and red herrings to keep me guessing up until the (horrifying) conclusion. But as with Chris Nickson’s earlier books, the murder isn’t really the point. The murder provides a framework for the interplay of the main and supporting characters – and it is in this area that the book really shines.

Family is a strong theme running throughout the book: the distraught family of the murdered girl; Richard Nottingham’s concerns over his daughter Emily’s happiness; deputy constable John Sedgwick’s running battles with his 5-year-old son who is running wild and jealous of his new baby sister; and new Constable’s man Rob Lister’s conflict with his father over his burgeoning romance with Emily. Add in a child-snatcher targeting children in Leeds and all of the Constable’s men’s fears for their families in the often precarious world they live in really come to the surface.

Speaking of Emily, I was thrilled to see her story given such prominence in this book. She is one of my favourite characters, and I very much enjoyed getting to see her asserting her independence once again! Although her attitude towards courtship and marriage is probably not typical for a young lady of this time period, it didn’t feel anachronistic. I understand there is another book planned for this series, so I’m looking forward to seeing if this causes any more conflict.

One thing that surprised me about this book was that there was so little mention of Amos Worthy, the pimp with an unexpected connection to Richard Nottingham whose (spoiler!) death at the end of the previous book looked set to tip the city into chaos as rival pimps and gangs fought to assert their dominance over areas Worthy had previously ruled with an iron fist. It’s mentioned near the start that the Constable is starting to see a bit of trouble from this direction, but nothing really comes up for the rest of the book. It’s understandable that this wasn’t brought up again, as frankly Nottingham seemed to have his hands full enough for the rest of the time, but it did surprise me a little.

As I said, this is certainly my favourite of the series so far. Tense, gripping, well-plotted and ultimately satisfying – and with a genuinely shocking ending that made me gasp out loud, earning me some very funny looks on the train! Can’t wait for the next one 🙂

Verdict: 4/5

—Exciting News—

The launch of Come the Fear will take place on 14 September at Arts@Trinity, and promises to be an exciting night! Sadly I can’t make it, as I’ll be in Cheltenham getting ready for the Winston’s Wish Sunrise Walk, but it sounds like a fab evening so, if you’re at all interested in Chris’ books, or Leeds, or crime fiction, or meeting awesome people and having a fab time, get on down there!

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2 Comments

  1. Sharon Robinson

     /  September 6, 2012

    This is a really good review. I enjoyed reading it and you are right about that ending. It definitely gave me a jolt and plenty of reason to look forward to the next in the series.

    I’ve really enjoyed the series to date. The crime element is only part of the pleasure, especially if you know Leeds. As a child, I lived in Marsh Lane for a while; my family was homeless and we were placed in accommodation for women and children in what had been the city morgue. It wasn’t, by then, a particularly nice area, although it had certain advantages, such as proximity to the city centre and Leeds market. It seems that in the eighteenth century, it was a relatively salubrious part of town, with easy access to open countryside.

    Some things haven’t changed so much; Leeds is still a city where being rich and/or well-connected matter, but perhaps that’s because it’s so much a microcosm of the country as a whole.

    Reply
  2. Chris Nickson

     /  September 7, 2012

    Sharon, thank you for your comments. What you said, briefly, about your childhood rang deeply in me, although I’ve never experienced the same thing. I think, in many ways, few things change. The wealthy are always insulated from the tides of life and there will always be corruption, there will always be the poor and disenfranchised.

    In some ways, I suppose my books try to connect the dots between then and now and show how little has really changed. They’re also, to a degree, love letters to Leeds, but perhaps with very open eyes. And the next in the series is a great deal darker – that’s all I’ll say.

    I appreciate you reading and I hope the feelings the books stir aren’t too painful.

    Reply

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