Monday, September 2, 2013

Fair and Tender Ladies by Chris Nickson

Rating: ★ ★ ★  ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: August 28, 2013

1734. When a young country lad comes looking for his sister who’s run away to Leeds, Constable Richard Nottingham isn’t optimistic; too many girls come seeking their fortune. But before a day has passed the young man is found dead, his throat cut. Who could have wanted him dead. The Leeds Nottingham knows is changing. Someone is vandalising the charity school his daughter has founded. There are plans to reopen the workhouse. And Tom Finer, a criminal who vanished years before, has returned. Then the girl the young man came seeking is dragged from the river, drowned. Nottingham, John Sedgwick and Rob Lister find themselves investigating killings where nothing is as it seems.

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Seduced by a gorgeous piece of cover art, I uncharacteristically opted out of my usual background reading, threw caution to the wind and jumped into Chris Nickson's Fair and Tender Ladies a virtual blank slate, far more familiar with the folk song from which it took its name than I was the author or his work.

A quick read, I found Nickson's work refreshingly entertaining. Where most period mysteries focus in some way on the privileged upper class, Fair and Tender Ladies takes place in the streets among the every day citizens of Leeds. Never having studied the city I can't speak to the accuracy of Nickson's portrayal, but I found the atmosphere he created within these pages, the authentic quality of the town and its inhabitants, very appealing.

Again, not having read this author before, I was pleased to discover Fair and Tender Ladies was written as a stand alone. Having started with the latest installment of the Richard Nottingham series I feared I'd be forced to play catch up for much of the novel, but this was not the case. While their pasts aren't fully explained, Nickson provides enough insight for new readers to feel as familiar with his cast as his older fan base. 

A character-driven story with well-plotted mystery, Fair and Tender Ladies is a cleverly penned historical, rich in dramatic and period detail. 

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Twigs and moss were caught in her fair, wet hair. She was small, not even five feet tall, and her face was so young. He rubbed her hands, feeling rough calluses on the palms... 'I think we've just found Jenny Carter.'
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