Cold Cruel Winter
This is the second novel about the crime-solving exploits of Richard Nottingham, Constable of Leeds in the 1730s, and follows on from The Broken Token (HNR 53, p.31).
This time the quarry for Nottingham and his deputy John Sedgwick is a serial killer with a list of his targets, who sends boastful messages to Nottingham in a particularly gruesome way. We know who the murderer is, and so does Nottingham, so this is a Day of the Jackal-type plot, and very well done it is, too. The murderer is a man who is ablaze with bitterness against those who he feels have wronged him, and he is particularly well characterised.
The story takes place during an unusually cold and snowy winter in Leeds. The poverty, suffering, and despair of its inhabitants confront Nottingham every time he ventures out. Reading this book is like taking a time machine to 1732 Leeds, not that I would want to.
There are other interweaving threads to this story, which also contains false leads, tragedies, and a fascinating plotline that holds it all together: how can the killer be hiding himself and carrying out his atrocious mutilations on the bodies of his victims, in a town of which Nottingham and Sedgwick know every corner?
Although there were one or two points that I found a little hard to believe (if you were in the West Indies around 1730, would you entrust a letter containing money to a sailor and expect it to reach the recipient at a rough tavern in Leeds? Would a poor woman be able to write a note, even a misspelt one?), Cold Cruel Winter is highly recommended, and I look forward to the next in the series.