#BookReview To The Dark by Chris Nickson @SevernHouse @RandomTTours

To The Dark BT Poster

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for To The Dark by Chris Nickson, the third book in his Simon Westow historical mystery series. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in the tour and to Severn House for my digital review copy via NetGalley.

To The DarkAbout the Book

Winter is about to take a chilling twist…

Leeds, 1822. The city is in the grip of winter, but the chill deepens for thief-taker Simon Westow and his young assistant, Jane, when the body of Laurence Poole, a petty local thief, emerges from the melting snow by the river at Flay Cross Mill.

A coded notebook found in Laurence’s room mentions Charlie Harker, the most notorious fence in Leeds who’s now running for his life, and the mysterious words: To the dark. What was Laurence hiding that caused his death? Simon’s hunt for the truth pits him against some dangerous, powerful enemies who’ll happily kill him in a heartbeat – if they can.

Format: ebook (224 pages)                       Publisher: Severn House
Publication date: 31st December 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime, Mystery

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My Review

To The Dark is the third book in Chris Nickson’s historical crime series featuring thief-taker Simon Westow. Having not read the previous two books in the series, I can testify to the fact To The Dark works perfectly well as a standalone. Indeed for the benefit of new readers like myself the author includes nuggets of information about the back stories of the main characters – Simon himself, his wife Rosie and his assistant Jane.

Jane is a particularly intriguing character. Clearly she has a troubled past but possesses an uncanny ability to pass unnoticed in a crowd, mingling with those on the boundaries of society in order to gather information helpful to Simon’s investigations. And she’s more than capable of looking after herself in risky situations.

Simon is an intuitive reader of others’ actions and intentions – useful in a fight, when seeking information or in a game of cards. It’s just as well because his work as a thief-taker (recovering stolen goods for a fee) brings him into contact with some pretty shady types. Now a family man, he has more to protect than before.

Set in early 19th century Leeds, readers familiar with that city are likely to recognize many of the locations featured in the book. It’s a city that is changing though as it becomes more industrialized with many of its inhabitants taking up employment in the new “manufactories” that fill the air with smog and smoke. I enjoyed the way the author conjured up the sights and sounds of the city such as during this evening stroll down Briggate.

“The night was alive with people. Groups moved from beer shop to dram shop, singing and laughing. The whores stood their pitches at the entrances to courts, joking and teasing for business. Lights glowed behind shutters and reflected in puddles on the pavement. Someone played a fiddle, a rousing jig that carried in the winter air.”

From the beginning, Simon senses there’s more than meets the eye about his engagement to help find the murderer of Laurence Poole, especially as that should be the responsibility of the city’s Constable. “He knew he was caught up in something political, a twisted, grubby little spectacle.” His suspicions are proved correct when the hunter becomes the hunted. Soon there are scores to be settled and justice to be served.

To The Dark is a well-crafted historical mystery with plenty of twists and turns. I liked the fact that Simon’s role is not that of traditional detective or police officer. It’s certainly a series I shall be looking out for more of in the future.

In three words: Suspenseful, assured, atmospheric

Try something similar: None So Blind by Alis Hawkins

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Chris Nickson Author PicAbout the Author

Chris Nickson has published 28 novels, all historical crime, most of them set in Leeds, whose people and history are his passion. The Richard Nottingham series began things, taking place in the 1730s, followed by the Tom Harper novels, which begin in 1890 and have now moved to the 20th century. Between them, Lottie Armstrong, Urban Raven and Dan Markham cover Leeds from the 1920s to the 1950s.

The three books featuring thief-taker Simon Westow explore a changing Leeds, growing rapidly in the 1820s as industry – the factories and mills and belching chimneys – comes to dominate the town. The Hocus Girl, the second in the series, received starred reviews from Kirkus, which called it a “tour de force,” and Publishers Weekly, which declared “historical mysteries don’t get much better than this.’

Chris grew up in Leeds, but lived in the US for many years, making his living as a music journalist. He still reviews occasional releases, but his focus these days is fiction.

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#BookReview A Prince and a Spy (Tom Wilde 5) by Rory Clements @ZaffreBooks

A Prince and a SpyAbout the Book

Sweden, 1942. Two old friends meet. They are cousins. One is Prince George, Duke of Kent, brother of the King of England. The other is Prince Philipp von Hesse, a committed Nazi and close friend of Adolf Hitler.

Days later, Prince George is killed in a plane crash in the north of Scotland. The official story is that it was an accident – though not everyone is convinced. There is even a suggestion that the Duke’s plane was sabotaged.

With no evidence, Cambridge spy Tom Wilde is sent north to investigate. What he discovers will have grave consequences not only for Britain, but for the entire world…

Format: Hardcover (480 pages)          Publisher: Zaffre
Publication date: 21st January 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

Find A Prince and a Spy (Tom Wilde #5) on Goodreads

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My Review

As far as I’m concerned it’s always a cause for celebration when a new book in Rory Clements’ Tom Wilde series arrives. As my reviews will testify, I’ve loved all the previous books in the series – Corpus, Nucleus, Nemesis and Hitler’s Secret – but to my mind A Prince and a Spy is the best yet.

The novel is inspired by the real-life events surrounding the death of King George V’s brother, the Duke of Kent, in a plane crash in the far north of Scotland in August 1942. All but one of the occupants of the plane were killed, including the Duke. The author has used the continuing mystery surrounding the circumstances of the crash as the starting point for a story involving wartime atrocities, covert operations and a conspiracy at the heart of the British establishment.

If that isn’t enough to whet your appetite there are also dramatic pursuits across land and sea by ruthless enemies who will stop at nothing, the use of truth drugs to extract information and some rather unconventional flight accommodation. And fans of the series will no doubt share my delight as Tom Wilde fires up his trusty Rudge Special motorcycle for breakneck journeys across the country.

Sent to Scotland to investigate the air crash, Wilde just can’t stop himself from asking questions that go well beyond his stated cover story, bringing him to the attention of some particularly dangerous individuals and to others whose motives are less than clear. At one point, Wilde is warned, “Now you’re getting in tricky waters, Tom. Any herring man will tell you to stay away from the shallows and the rocks”. But, as anyone familiar with Tom Wilde will know, he’s just as likely to steer straight towards them.

Moving between Scotland, Sweden and wartime London, at certain points the author also transports the reader to the heart of the Third Reich giving a chilling insight into its evil efficiency and the personal rivalries between its key figures.

Eventually all the threads are brought together in order to explain the background to the dramatic event that opens the book. Although dark deeds dominate most of the book, its ending is just perfect and offers a much needed ray of light.  However Tom being Tom, there are still unanswered questions that linger in his mind. I would have liked a more prominent role for Lydia, Wilde’s partner and the mother of his son, as she’s rather consigned to the domestic sidelines. However, that’s only a very minor gripe because in every other respect A Prince and a Spy has everything I look for in a historical thriller.

The author’s historical note provides fascinating information about the individuals who inspired some of the fictional characters, about the afterlives (where known) of the real characters and about some of the events portrayed in the book.  Sadly, some of the most shocking scenes in the book are based on historical fact.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Zaffre and Readers First. A Prince and a Spy is also available as an ebook and audio book.

In three words: Gripping, dramatic, action-packed

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RoryClementsAbout the Author

Rory Clements was born on the edge of England in Dover. After a career in national newspapers, he now writes full time in a quiet corner of Norfolk, where he lives with his wife, the artist Naomi Clements Wright. He won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award in 2010 for his second novel, Revenger, and the CWA Historical Dagger in 2018 for Nucleus. Three of his other novels – Martyr, Prince and The Heretics – have been shortlisted for awards. A Prince and a Spy is the fifth of his thriller series featuring Professor Tom Wilde. The first four – Corpus, Nucleus, Nemesis and Hitler’s Secret – are available in paperback now.

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