Review: A Dark Steel Death, by Chris Nickson


book cover

Tom Harper must catch a traitor intent on disrupting the war effort and bringing terror to the streets of Leeds in this page-turning mystery.

Leeds. December, 1916. Deputy Chief Constable Tom Harper is called out in the middle of the night when a huge explosion rips through a munitions factory supplying war materials, leaving death and destruction in its wake. A month later, matches and paper to start a fire are found in an army clothing depot. It’s a chilling discovery: there’s a saboteur running loose on the streets of Leeds.

As so many give their lives in the trenches, Harper and his men are working harder than ever – and their investigation takes a dark twist with two shootings, at the local steelworks and a hospital. With his back against the wall and the war effort at stake, Harper can’t afford to fail. But can he catch the traitor intent on bringing terror to Leeds?


Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.

Chris Nickson loves his city. It’s a love that shows up in the way he’s portrayed it through his multiple suspense series set during various periods of English history. I was introduced to Nickson’s work through his “Regency Noir” series set in the early nineteenth century, but A Dark Steel Death is one of the Tom Harper novels and set over 100 years later. I’ve not read any of the earlier books in this series, and I’ve since learned there will be just one more book after this one. But are these facts important when it came to my reading of this title?

The first thing to say is I love the cover. First, there’s the silhouette of Leeds Town Hall, recognizable to anyone who knows the city. It’s in contrast to the molten steel being poured that looks like a sunset behind the building. The opening pages of the story consist of the real-life explosion at the Barnbow munitions factory in December 1916. Nickson’s protagonist attends the scene. Future events have Tom Harper wonder if it’s part of a larger sabotage conspiracy.

Nickson’s plot expertly weaves fictional suspense with the cold hard reality of life during World War One. Harper’s daughter is mourning her fiancée after his death in the war. Injured soldiers, home from the Front, are dealing with what we now recognize to be PTSD. There are manufacturers out to make money from government contracts, and black-market suppliers to be tracked down. Harper must also deal with issues of a personal nature; his household has taken in a refugee family from Europe and his wife is facing long term health concerns, with which some readers may be familiar. Leeds in wartime is also a city of contrasts and transition. Those who are well off now have access to motor vehicles, deepening the divide between the wealthy and the poor, and women are entering the workplace to cover for the men who are now fighting in mainland Europe. And all the while, the tension builds bit by bit.

Do you need to have read the earlier nine books in the Tom Harper Mystery series? I don’t believe so. I knew what I needed to know, and my enjoyment of A Dark Steel Death wasn’t lessened because I didn’t know about previous events. I’d like to read at least some of those earlier novels before the eleventh – and apparent final – book in the series is released, but I won’t consider it a huge problem if other books get in the way!


Rating: 5 out of 5.


Publisher: Severn House (An imprint of Canongate Books, Ltd)

Publication Date: 06 September 2022 (in USA)

Book Information



author headshot

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.

Chris Nickson’s Website

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