Skin Like Silver: A Tom Harper Victorian Police Procedural, by Chris Nickson, (Severn House), 224 pages, release date 1 March, 2016
Last August, I reviewed the first novel in Chris Nickson’s Tom Harper Police Procedural Series: Two Bronze Pennies. I’m pleased to report that Harper is back (and in less than a year!) with another mystery to puzzle out.
This new novel, Skin Like Silver, has all the strengths of the first: Tom Harper, a detective inspector who is both vulnerable and fearless; Tom’s wife Annabelle, owner of a tavern and three bakeries, and now an increasingly active suffragette; interesting colleagues for Tom to work with; and mysteries firmly grounded in the politics of its time and place (1891 Leeds, England).
Skin Like Silver serves as an introduction to the challenges faced by women in the Victorian era: their vulnerability to abusive spouses, their dangerous fight to earn a political voice for themselves, and the indifference, even hostility, met by young women who must sell themselves to make a living and those who find themselves unwed and pregnant.
Harper finds himself facing three mysteries, which later expand into four. A stillborn baby has been mailed to a local post office. A suffragette has been murdered and her remains found among the ashes of a burned railway station. A part-time prostitute has been raped by a potential customer. And, once the sufragette’s brother learns of her killing—an unstable war veteran with scouting and sniping skills determined to revenge himself against everyone who has ever wronged him or his sister.
Using these many strands Nickson weaves a tight, logical, and engaging tale, making sure we see the personal sides of the novel’s central characters, as well as the professional. Tom worries a hearing loss will result in his removal from the police force. A colleague works uneasily with Tom, who once convinced him to provide false testimony in order to convict a known killer. Annabelle, a highly competent businesswoman, finds herself unnerved as she becomes an increasingly popular suffragette speaker.
Give yourself the treat of reading this novel and entering Harper’s world. Then, if you enjoy yourself—and I’m sure you will—give yourself the added treat of seeking out a copy of Two Bronze Pennies as well.
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