The brutal deaths of two young boys and a young man connected to a mill in Leeds propel thief-taker Simon Westow into a disturbing, twisty mystery that recalls his own traumatic past.
Leeds. October, 1823. When a doctor from the infirmary tells thief-taker Simon Westow about the brutal deaths of two young boys at the hands of a mill overseer, Simon’s painful memories of his childhood reawaken. Unable to sleep, he goes for a walk – and stumbles upon the body of a young man being pulled from the river.
Simon and his assistant, Jane, are drawn into investigating the deaths, seeking a measure of justice for the powerless dead. But the pursuit of the truth takes them down a dangerous and deadly path. Can they overcome a powerful enemy who knows he stands above the law in Leeds – and the shadowy figure that stands behind him?
Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.
If you have connections in Leeds in the early nineteenth century, you do not want to get on the wrong side of Simon Westow. The same is to be said for his wife Rosie, and especially of his assistant, Jane. Simon is a thief-taker; if you’ve stolen something chances are he’ll be hired to find you and return the property to its rightful owner. Rosie might seem to be an ordinary mother of two boys, but appearances can be deceiving. As for Jane, you probably won’t even have the opportunity to form an opinion on her appearance because she has ways to make herself invisible. Their creator, Chris Nickson, writes them in such a way that readers like this trio, but they aren’t nice people to those who cross them.
Welcome to the Simon Westow Mysteries, of which The Blood Covenant is the fourth title. It starts with a bleak first chapter: Westow is recovering from illness when he hears about the deaths of two child mill workers. Then he comes upon the recovery of a dead body from the river. At first, they don’t seem connected, but there are people in Leeds who know other people, and who don’t like it when thief-takers start asking questions. The mill owner and his overseer have a long history together, to the point where they’ve formed a blood covenant. An attack on one is considered an attack on the other. Westow has now become their enemy.
Although The Blood Covenant is set during the Regency Era, this is not for the faint of heart. This is not Jane Austen’s Regency. This is, as Nickson calls it, Regency Noir. It’s the dark side of a time when the ton danced, and girls wore pretty dresses and giggled innocently. There’s more than one brutal scene ending with blood. Knife fights are common, and more than one person brings a gun to one of those fights. The tension builds slowly, and anticipation makes it difficult to put the book down. You want to believe the trio will prevail, but will there be collateral damage? You’ll be wondering until the end, a very disquieting end.
On a lighter note, there’s a beautiful dedication to all essential workers at the front of the book. This is a novel written during the pandemic.
Publisher: Severn House (An imprint of Canongate Books, Ltd)
Publication Date: 01 February 2022 (in USA)
“I’ve been killing people in Leeds (and a couple of other places) since 1730.” So says Chris Nickson, the author of six Tom Harper mysteries and seven highly acclaimed novels in the Richard Nottingham series. He is also a well-known music journalist. He lives in his beloved Leeds.