Rusted Souls

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Pub Date 05 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 07 Sep 2023

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Retirement beckons for Chief Constable Tom Harper. Can he stop a spiralling crime spree involving love letters, robbery and murder before he hangs up his boots for good?

"A knockout conclusion . . . Series devotees will be thrilled" Publishers Weekly Starred Review 

"An excellent procedural . . . [that] ties up all the loose ends and breaks your heart" Kirkus Reviews Starred Review

Leeds, 1920. Chief Constable Tom Harper of Leeds City Police has just six weeks left in the role before his well-earned retirement. But even though his distinguished forty-year career is ending, the crime and mayhem on the city’s streets continues.
Council leader Alderman Thompson is being blackmailed. He wants Harper to find the love letters he sent to a young woman called Charlotte Radcliffe and return them discreetly. Elsewhere, masked, armed robbers are targeting jewellery shops in the city, and an organized gang of shoplifters is set to descend on Leeds. As events threaten to spiral out of control, Harper battles to restore justice and order to the streets of Leeds one last time.

Retirement beckons for Chief Constable Tom Harper. Can he stop a spiralling crime spree involving love letters, robbery and murder before he hangs up his boots for good?

"A knockout conclusion...

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Featured Reviews

A standing ovation and a crisp salute in the direction of Chris Nickson.

Many are the book series out there. They range from fair to mediocre to eye-catching. But this DI Tom Harper Series falls into the outstanding category. Chris Nickson has created an experience like no other. Nickson knows Leeds.......simple, complicated, and flawed just like his main character DI Tom Harper. He's always pressed consistency and diligence into the character of Tom. And each reading is a memorable experience.

Tom Harper is now Chief Constable Harper. We've watched his footsteps on the beat from dark street corners in Leeds to his present efficient office in the town hall. Harper has risen to the challenge no matter what. He's counting the days until his retirement eager to hand the reigns to someone else. But retirement will not come with ease. Crime waits in the streets.....and it keeps vigil outside his door.

Alderman Ernest Thompson is a brusk individual. He's quite the figure at the town hall. But it seems that "figure" has a different meaning and in a different category now. Thompson is being blackmailed by someone in possession of love letters to a certain young lady. He's married and wants no scandal. A bit too late for that.He begs Harper to investigate the situation and get those letters back. But discretion is key. This will turn into a gnarled effort on all sides.

Leeds is experiencing the aftermath of returning soldiers from the Great War. It's 1920 and the physically and emotionally wounded can be seen on every street. But a new element is raising flags as fast and furious jewelry heists are making their way through Leeds' shops. It appears that these hell-raisers may be former soldiers themselves. Harper and his men are perplexed.

To add to this pressure, bands of women shoplifters have innundated London and Manchester and they're on their way to Leeds. Like no other time before, women constables will be needed to handle situations such as these. Times are changing. These shoplifters and pickpockets are leaving chaos behind.

Rusted Souls is a reflection of the continuity of this remarkable series. Tom and his men have given their all through the years for the betterment of this community. They've lost many in the ranks as they fought crime which has transfigured itself within this changing era. We've sat in the midst of Tom's remarkable marriage and his relationship with his dynamic daughter. The toll has been great, but the movement in making inroads even far greater. And the character of Tom has left a huge imprint on us readers. But most of all, so have you, Chris Nickson. So have you. Bravo!

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Severn House and to the talented Chris Nickson for the opportunity.

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Rusted Souls is another truly excellent book, the tenth, in the Tom Harper series set over a 40 year period from being a lowly Policeman in the Victorian era through to the 1920s when he has risen to the highest rank possible, Retirement looms for Tom but can he crack one last case. Essentially they`re police procedurals of the era but they also show empathy for the conditions that folk lived in 100+ years ago when life was tough for the general population and life expectancy was short due to pollution, the like modern folk have never seen. Having read them all they are a journey in time to a bygone age which Chris Nickson seems to be able to bring to life so expertly that it shows he`s done his research on his beloved Leeds. You can almost smell the smoke of bygone Leeds on every page you turn. Time travel is definitely possible in Chris`s books. I can recommend them to any reader that truly loves historical novels and wants to curl up in the past for a while.

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The bad news: this is the last novel in Chris Nickson's Tom Harper mystery series. As someone who has admired the Tom Harper from the series' beginning with the first installment, GODS OF GOLD, seeing the series close is inevitably bittersweet. The good news: as is typical of Nickson, RUSTED SOULS is a superb historical mystery. With its convincing characters, skillfully plotted mystery, and vividly depicted setting, this is Nickson at his best and a fitting close for an excellent series.

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Thank you NetGalley and Severn Publishing for the eARC.
This was my first DI Tom Harper and the last in the serie. I would have benefitted from from reading the series from the beginning, but despite that I really enjoyed the book.
Tom is such a superb character, I not only loved how he treated the men he worked with, but especially how he handled the very difficult and heartbreaking problems with his wife. Then there's the loving relationship with his daughter. The description of Leeds after the War, having had so many deaths as well as the Spanish flu epidemic was heartbreakimg. The cases he finished up with were interesting and I must say I felt nostalgic and sad ending the book.
Definitely recommended!

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I enjoy historical mysteries, so I thought I would take a look at this.

This was a sophisticated 1920s murder mystery. I hadn't read any of the previous books in the series, but the characters and the setting came to life for me soon after I started reading, I invested in the story, and towards the end, there was a turn of events that I hadn't expected, and I was slightly emotional.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for a free copy to review.

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All good things must come to an end, so it is with great sorrow that I say farewell to Chief Constable Tom Harper and his family, in this, the final book in this wonderful series.

Leeds 1920, and Tom Harper is just weeks away from a well earned retirement, but first he’ll have three cases to crack, because there’s no way he’ll leave them unsolved for his successor.

The first case is very much under the radar, at the insistence of married Council leader, Alderman Thompson, who is being blackmailed after becoming involved with a much younger woman. It’s clear he was besotted by her, even sending her love letters, but now the affair is coming back to bite him, and he desperately needs those letters back.

The next case is that of a gang of armed and masked robbers who are targeting jewellery shops in the city centre.

The third and final case is a gang of organised female shoplifters who have already targeted other cities with much success. Leeds is next on their list, but Harper intends to do everything he can to defeat them.

Well of course nothing is that simple and these three cases spiral out of control, with Harper having the devil of a job to bring them all to a successful conclusion.

As ever Chris Nickson has written a riveting storyline with research that is unmatched. He loves Leeds and he knows Leeds, and that adds authenticity to every book in this series. I am going to miss the series like no other.
I’ve always said that I can’t go very long without a Chris Nickson novel to read, and this series in particular has been a favourite - how on earth am I going to manage without Tom Harper, his wife Annabelle and daughter Mary in my life? I honestly don’t know. Thank you for introducing me to the Harper’s Mr Nickson, I shall miss them.

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Chris Nickson does a great job in writing a historical mystery novel. I was hooked from the first page and loved how good everything was. The characters had that spark that I was hoping for when reading the description. The mystery does a great job in keeping me hooked and wanting more.

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I absolutely devoured this! This was such a great mystery! I absolutely loved this story line it was so good!!
I just reviewed Rusted Souls by Chris Nickson. #RustedSouls #NetGalley
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Rusted Souls is the final volume in Chris Nickson's DI Tom Harper series. I've been reading these titles since the get-go and will miss them, but this wrap-up is quite satisfactory in terms of both the mysteries at its center and the sense of closure it provides for readers who have grown fond of Harper and other characters.

This is one of those series I urge people to read in order—or at least read one or two early/middle volumes before jumping to the end. Part of delight of this series has been experiencing the changes in characters' lives and their adaptations to them. Nickson has allowed them to age in ways that make them all the more real for readers. They aren't eternally youthful, always energetic superhero types. Nickson also pays close attention to the history of Leeds (where these historical mysteries are set) and incorporates events/issues like poor laws, the expansion of voting rights, life during WWI, and the economic crisis at the war's end.

In Rusted Souls, Harper is preparing to retire and hoping to wrap up several cases before he leaves—
• an series of audacious robberies of jewelry stores
• an organized group of shoplifters and pickpockets that have been systematically hitting different cities
• attempted blackmail of a powerful local politician.
These cases become personally challenging as the robbers deliberately taunt him and the politician demands near-instantaneous results and explodes in temper regularly, while expecting scupulous discretion from Harper. At the same time, Harper is facing challenges at home, particularly the decline of his once-energetic and iconoclastic wife and his daughter's gradual adjustment to the death of her fiancee in the war.

If you're a fan of historical mysteries, you'll appreciate not just Rusted Souls, but all the volumes in this series. Take your time with the characters and let yourself follow the trajectories of their lives—trust me, the payoff for readers keeps increasing with each new volume.

I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley; the opinions are my own.

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The author has written some very good historical novels featuring Leeds West Yorkshire. This is the eleventh and final book in the Tom Harper series. This one is set in 1920 and flu has killed as many people that lost their lives in World War One.
Harper is Chief Constable and about to retire. However he is not being allowed an easy exit! Tom's wife Annabelle has early senility and has good days and bad ones. They employ a nurse to help. Their daughter Mary lives with them. She lost her fiance in the great war and is still single and a successful business woman.
Tom is approached by Alderman Thompson who is leader of the Council. Tom owed the man because he backed Tom to be the Chief. Thompson is embarrassed as he admits to an affair with a young woman. Letters he sent to her are now being used to blackmail him. Thompson wants Tom to recover them but discreetly.
Leeds jewellers are being terrorised by a gang robbing them at gun point. Also Tom is advised that a group of women thieves are making their way to Leeds via Liverpool and Manchester.
Tom's personal problems are making life difficult and he hopes he can make retirement!
An excellent historical author. It will be interesting to see what direction his next book takes. Very much recommended.

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I would like to thank Netgalley and Severn House Publishers for an advance copy of Rusted Souls, the eleventh and final novel to feature Chief Constable of Leeds Police, Tom Harper, set in 1920.

Tom’s retirement is days away and he still has three cases to resolve, Council leader Alderman Thompson is being blackmailed over some letters he wrote to a young lady, Charlotte Radcliffe and he wants Tom to get them back secretly, a masked armed gang is raiding jewellers shops in the town centre and there is the threat of a large gang of shoplifters coming to Leeds.

I thoroughly enjoyed Rusted Souls, which is a straightforward police procedural mixing Tom’s professional and private lives. With it being the end of an era the novel is perhaps more emotional and reflective than its predecessors, it certainly brought a tear to my eye before the end, but that doesn’t stop it being a compulsive read. I couldn’t put it down and reluctantly, due to appointments, had to read it in two sittings.

I like a police procedural and this one has a historical setting, so it’s all about deduction and shoe leather. I like that there are three very different cases to solve. The letters case becomes something much deeper and darker and pits Tom’s wits against a manipulative opponent. He gets a result, but not the one he was looking for. The armed gang case is the one that causes the most immediate problem, because with guns involved it turns violent very quickly. It’s a great storyline as the police start with nothing and gradually narrow down the suspects’ identities, if not their location. It is interesting to see technology free policing in action. The shoplifting gang case gets less attention as it’s all about planning and tactics, although it probably produces the biggest twist of them all.

The novel is told entirely from Tom’s point of view and that has both positives and negatives. On the plus side it’s all about the investigation and how to catch criminals, whereas the negative is any discussion of motive. In this novel in particular I feel that it would have benefited from a bit more bad guy character analysis, due to the nature of the crimes, but it’s a minor niggle in a great story that’s all about investigation. On the personal side Tom has mixed feelings about leaving a career he has had for forty years. He will miss it, but he’s tired and want to spend time with his wife, Annabelle, who has dementia. I was very impressed by the descriptions of her dementia that seem realistic and heartbreaking.

Rusted Souls is a good read that I have no hesitation in recommending.

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Many thanks to NetGalley and Severn House for this Advanced Reader Copy and the opportunity to review “Rusted Souls.” All opinions and comments are my own.

This is the last Chief Constable Tom Harper book. It’s not a secret, we’ve been told by author Chris Nickson for some time now. So, readers will expect a fitting end to the story of Tom, his family, and police business in 1920s-era Leeds. And in “Rusted Souls,” that is exactly what they get.

Tom has things he’s got to do before retirement; Mr. Nickson won’t let him go without reminding us that’s he’s a policeman, first and foremost. Thus, there is plenty of police work in this one -- let’s get that out of the way right away. That means some ripping tales involving a dark case of blackmail, a gang of female shoplifters, and jewelry store robberies that test all of the Chief Constable’s skills along with the rest of his force -- once a copper, always a copper. Tom brings his career to a satisfactory conclusion with it all, and not before he gets to put in a last bit of real policing. Chris Nickson’s ability to describe and bring to life these people, settings and situations is at full force throughout.

Within these pages is a reminder of what the war did to people; Mr. Nickson has written of that often. He reminds us that it may be a reason for what is driving much of the crime that surrounds them. And there’s Mary, with her lost fiancé. She has a form of closure. Such a strong character, who’s been there as a foil and a help to her mother and father in every book.

And then, of course, we have Annabelle, who is losing her battle with what we modern people would probably know as Alzheimer's. It has been heartbreaking. As the book says, “All her past is being stolen from her,” and her future, too. But her family will be there for support, something that has been a hallmark of the series, too.

Finally, everything is finished. It’s over, retirement has come. All cases completed and cleared. And on my part, a very big Thank You to Mr. Nickson for telling us what became of Tom, and Mary, and Annabelle, and the others we have come to know in this series. And to the city of Leeds, which was also brought to life. I will definitely miss them, one and all.

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Leeds, March 1920. Tom Harper is Chief Constable of the City force and, with just six weeks until his retirement, he is dearly hoping for a quiet ride home for the final furlong of what has been a long and distinguished career. His hopes are dashed, however, when he is summoned to the office of Alderman Ernest Thompson, the combative, blustering - but very powerful - leader of the City Council. Thompson has one last task for Harper, and it is a very delicate one. The politician has fallen a trap that is all too familiar for many elderly men of influence down the years. He has, shall we say, been indiscreet with a beautiful but much younger woman, Charlotte Radcliffe. Letters that he foolishly wrote to her have "gone missing" and now he has an anonymous note demanding money - or else his reputation will be ruined. He wants Harper to solve the case, but keep everything completely off the record. Grim-faced, Harper has little choice but to agree. It is due to Thompson's support and encouragement that he is ending his career as Chief Constable, with a comfortable pension and an untarnished reputation. He chooses a small group of trusted colleagues, swears them to secrecy, and sets about the investigation.
He soon has other things to worry about. A quartet of young armed men robs a city centre jewellers, terrifying the staff by firing a shot into the ceiling. They strike again, but this time with fatal consequences. A bystander tries to intervene, and is shot dead for his pains. Many readers will have been following this excellent series for some time, and will know that tragedy has struck the Harper family. Tom's wife Annabelle has what we now know as dementia, and requires constant care. Their daughter Mary is now a widow. Her husband Len is one of the 72000 men who fought and died on the Somme, but have no known grave. Unlike many widows, however, she has been able to rebuild her life, and now runs a successful secretarial agency. Leeds, however, like so many other towns and cities is no place fit for heroes:
"'Times are hard.'
"I know," Harper agreed.
It was there in the bleak faces of the men, the worn-down looks of their wives, the hunger that kept the children thin. The wounded ex-servicemen reduced to begging on the streets. Things hadn't changed much from when he was young. Britain had won the war but forgotten its own people."
Nickson's descriptions of his beloved Leeds are always powerful, but here he describes a city - like many others - reeling from a double blow. As if the carnage of the Great War were not enough, the Gods had another spiteful trick up their sleeves in the shape of Spanish Influenza, which killed 228000 people across the country. Many people are still wearing gauze masks in an attempt to ward off infection. The hunt for the jewel robbers and Ernest Jackson's letters continues almost to the end of the book and, as always, Nickson tells a damn good crime story; for me however, the focus had long since shifted elsewhere. This book is all about Tom and Annabelle Harper. Weather-wise, spring is definitely in the air, as bushes and trees come back to life after the bareness of winter, but there is a distinctly autumnal air about what is happening on the page. Harper is, like Tennyson's Ulysses, not the man he was.
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

As he tries to help at the scene of a crime, he reflects:
"There was nothing he could do to help here; he was just another old man cluttering up the pavement and stopping the inspector from doing his job."

As for Annabelle, the lovely, brave and vibrant woman of the earlier books, little is left:
"The memories would remain. She'd have them too, but they were tucked away in pockets that were gradually being sewn up. All her past was being stolen from her. And he couldn't stop the theft."

This is a magnificent and poignant end to the finest series of historical crime fiction I have ever read. It is published by Severn House and will be available on 5th September.

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The year is 1920 and Chief Constable Tom Harper has only six weeks to go before he finally retires from the Leeds City Police. Determined to leave without any outstanding cases, he finds himself caught in the middle of a crime spree. Armed robbers are targeting jewellery shops, the severity of their crimes seemingly escalating. Meanwhile, word arrives that a large group of female shoplifters is about to descend on Leeds city centre after causing mayhem in other English cities. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, Harper is approached by Alderman Thompson, the leader of the council, pleading for discretion: he is being blackmailed after sending love letters to a young woman and is desperate for their return. With six weeks to go, can Harper restore order to Leeds?

It is always hard to reach the end of a series but it has been obvious from the way the story has developed that we are getting near to the end of Tom Harper’s time in the Leeds City Police. Throughout the series, we have seen Tom progress through the ranks in what has been a very successful career but now the inevitable has happened. In Harper, his wife Annabelle and the rest of the cast, Chris Nickson has created characters that have become like family members, people who you really care about.

In Rusted Souls, the author has given us several plots, each one as fascinating to read about as the others. I have always enjoyed how Chris Nickson merges fact with fiction and so I particularly enjoyed reading about the aftermath of the Great War and the effect it had on the people of Leeds, in particular, how it affected the sort of crime that was starting to emerge.

This was always going to be a bittersweet book but the author has done all of the characters justice and ended the series in a way that was satisfying and true to what has gone before. I enjoyed reading about what became of the characters after the series ended, again making them feel like real people.

I am really going to miss Tom Harper and hope that, one day, we see this being made into a television series. It would make for compulsive viewing!

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Hooked from the very first line!

How could I not be? This is Tom Harper. A man I’ve traveled with down through the years. It’s 1920 and Harper’s only six weeks away from retirement. He’s been asked by his boss, Alderman Thompson to quietly investigate a matter for him. Thompson’s being blackmailed. He’d “engineered Harper’s permanent appointment as Chief Constable of Leeds City Police.” Now Thompson’s calling in the debt.
Three live cases are on the go, three cases to be wound up before handing over to his replacement. All have Harper puzzled and frustrated.
*There’s this blackmail case with a moneyed and cool woman seemingly at the center.
*A series of jewellery shop heists by four highly disciplined robbers.
*The coming onslaught of organized groups of women en mass shop lifting from bigger department stores in numbers too large to control. They have been working their way from London connecting to large centers by train and foiling police. Mayhem has ensued.
Leeds is next!
And with all this Tom is faced with extreme sadness and loss. The love of his life, his wife Annabelle, “the vibrant woman, the suffragist speaker, has vanished.” Caught in the clutches of a relentless disease. Dementia has taken her away. Oh, there’s good moments when she’s in the now, but they’re disappearing.
I ponder on the question of how divorced can an author be from his characters?
Nickson’s sensitive writing about the man Harper is, Harper’s alertness to situations, the presentation of his failings and strengths over the years, and now his sensitive handling of his wife’s illness, all point to the empathetic and brilliant mind behind the tales. The modestly brilliant and determined writer Chris Nickson, the creator of our beloved Harper, who writes with a huge love and knowledge of the city he loves, Leeds.
I freely admit to having tears in my eyes and a tightness in my throat as I read the last episode in Tom Harper’s investigative career, from a humble on the beat policeman to equally humble Chief Constable. So much seen, so much endured, and yet he maintained his dignity, his compassion and his humanity. We grew with him and his family through situations that saw them all go from strength to strength despite the odds.
Farewell Tom Harper, it’s been a great journey! I’ve enjoyed every moment.

A Severn House ARC via NetGalley.
Many thanks to the author and publisher.
Please note: Quotes taken from an advanced reading copy maybe subject to change
(Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.)

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Chief Constable Tom Harper is about to retire- and this series to end- but not before he deals with three cases. Its 1920 and Leeds is coping as best it can with the impact of loss from both WWI and the flu. Criminals, however, are always out there and Tom must stop jewel thieves and female shoplifters all while searching for letters being used to blackmail an important politician. And he must help his wife who is struggling and his daughter whose fiance was killed in the war. Nickson packs a lot into a slim volume but it works. I'd only read one of the preceding novels so this was more or less a standalone for me and it was fine that way. That said, I'll bet those who have followed along will be satisfied with how things wrap up. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. A very good read.

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A terrific ending to a well loved series , Chris Nickson really made an incredible finish to this one. A complicated crime that spread out past Leeds to other parts of UK kept blowing up both law enforcement as well as citizens.
Approaching his retirement is weeks ,days and down to hours , Tom Harper also had to contend with his wife's increasing form of dementia. They were in their new house where he could plant flowers for her and walk her around but to not too much avail.
As the saga neared it's end , Tom makes a last minute plan, throwing himself into the line of fire. Wounded but living, he is lionized as a hero.
In retirement his wife was calmer but her time was very short. As she slept one night she jerked and as he held her she breathed her last.

Their daughter Mary never marries, having lost her fiancé in the great war, but she lived a very fulfilling life.
Tom himself has years left to him and is involved in many worthwhile things to improve his beloved Leeds.
So glad I read this one.

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It is now 1920 and Chief Constable Tom Harper has only a few more weeks until retirement. He is approached by Alderman Ernest Thompson as he is being blackmailed over an affair, which soon results in the first death complicating the case. The team also investigate a series of jewellery shop robberies which is compounded by a report of a gang of women thieves in the area.
An interesting and well-written entertaining historical mystery. With its cast of likeable and varied characters, this story is the conclusion to this enjoyable series.
An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Rusted Souls by Chris Nickson is the story of Chief Constable, Tom Harper, his last three cases and his home life with his adult daughter Mary and his wife Annabelle who is struggling with dementia, and his impending retirement.
A tightly-knit gang of 4 ex-WW1-soldiers are robbing jewelry stores and kill a civilian in the process. As Harper’s staff close in on the gang, one is found dead, executed by the others for causing the civilian death. Another is injured and hospitalized during a botched getaway.
A gang of shoplifters are headed for Leeds and Harper assigns the case to an up and coming detective who manages the situation through careful planning.
And Alderman Thompson asks Harper to find the person or people who are blackmailing him over a stupid dalliance with a much younger woman.
This is the last book in a long series during which the characters are thoroughly crafted, their relationships feeling authentic and sincere, and the post WW1 Leeds setting as genuine-feeling as possible, the author attending to such details as the current politics, fashions and the emotions of the families of returned and killed soldiers. It’s a masterpiece of detail and accuracy.
The story is suspenseful and feels very real.

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1920 and Leeds is coming to terms with the end of the war and the Spanish Flu pandemic. Many families have been affected and Tom Harper is coming to the end of his career in the police force. Before he leaves he has three cases to solve. One is the influx of female shoplifters and pickpockets from London who are working their way around the northern cities causing havoc. The second is a favour to a local politician who has foolishly sent letters to a younger mistress and is now being blackmailed. Most dangerous of all is the gang of robbers who are getting more violent with each raid.
I have really loved Nickson's books about the career policeman Tom Harper and how they have progressed over a forty year slice of Leeds history. As ever the sense of time and place are spot on and here, in the early twentieth century there are more references to institutions still in place in the 1970s (but often alas no more). I love the way that local history is woven around social history and yet at its heart this is still a really solid police procedural.

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Chris Nickson brings his Tom Harper series to a satisfying, very moving close in this 11th in the series, which has followed his protagonist, his family, and fellow policemen from late Victorian times to the post-WWI era. But even if this is your first acquaintance with the recurring cast, you won’t be lost. Everyone’s role is made clear by way of deep characterizations and sufficient backstory.

In March 1920, Harper, Chief Constable of Leeds City Police, approaches the future with guarded optimism. The Great War is over, although memories of the countless losses and suffering remain fresh. Likewise, the presence of fewer gauze masks indicates that Spanish flu cases are dropping. After a distinguished forty-year career that saw him rise to the top rank in his profession, retirement is in sight, a mere six weeks away. But getting there won’t be easy. In fact, it becomes a personal and professional mission for Harper to wrap up three brand new, unlinked cases before he exits his Town Hall office for good.

The first crime is one he needs to keep secret: Alderman Thompson, the city council head who’d recommended Harper for his current post, is in hot water after letting himself be “distracted by a lass” and getting blackmailed for the indiscreet love letters he wrote her, which were subsequently stolen. As Harper arranges to talk with Thompson’s former mistress, a new mystery lands: an elusive team of thieves holding up jewelry stores. Lastly, police in other cities are troubled by organized groups of female pickpockets wreaking havoc on local businesses, and word is that they’re heading for Leeds soon. At home, Harper’s wife, Annabelle, is sinking progressively deeper into senility; on good days, she speaks with him, and her original personality briefly surfaces. Other times, she remains silently lost in her own world.

There are multiple cases to untangle alongside the wrapping-up of character arcs, and no words are wasted in the process. The suspense revs up throughout, keeping readers guessing about what will happen next with each case. Alongside the tight plot, we get immersed in the postwar atmosphere of Leeds. Harper’s daughter, Mary, who lost her fiancé overseas, has a close bond with her father – they meet for lunch regularly – and is working through her feelings of loss, planning a visit to the battlefield while choosing to dress again in brighter colors. Nickson’s portrait of Annabelle’s dementia is entirely realistic and affecting, as is Tom’s emotional reaction to the heartbreaking changes he sees in his beloved partner.

This novel is highly recommended, though if you wish to start at the very beginning of Tom’s story, pick up volume 1, Gods of Gold.

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Tom Harper, Chief Constable of Leeds, is about to retire. His time is spent between his Town Hall office with its endless mountains of paperwork, his old stomping ground of Millgarth, and home with his beloved wife, Annabelle, whose scattered reality is slowly disappearing down the dementia rabbit hole. Work, family, and home are Harper’s solitary musings. Now he has six weeks to solve two new cases, and satisfactory solutions are the key to planning a peaceful retirement.

Four ex-army men commit a series of jewelry store robberies, playing Robin Hood to the dispossessed of Leeds by leaving their hauls on random doorsteps. An alderman is blackmailed by indiscreet letters to his mistress. The parallels between the outcomes of the burglaries (men armed and trained to kill, by His Majesty’s government, in defence of the nation) and the blackmail (some well-to-do shirkers who have avoided the conflict altogether) are deftly drawn, as both crimes stem from the aftermath of war and a worldwide pandemic, and both escalate into multiple deaths. These two crimes are punctuated by a large group of well-organised female shoplifters descending on Leeds.

This last in Nickson’s Tom Harper series, set in 1920, is a straightforward police procedural, as are the other books, but beneath a multifaceted, deceptively simple drama lies a city reeling from ‘the worst war man had ever known.’ Thoughts on lost morality, the sheer waste of human life, the physical and mental scars, and post-war healing, give Rusted Souls an emotional depth which tenderly evokes a society desperate to find some new kind of normal. Nickson’s farewell to his characters is filled with nostalgia, which does not make this an ideal starting point. I wholeheartedly recommend the series but suggest delving into one or two of the earlier books first.

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