Nickson, Chris - 'The Broken Token'
This is a fascinating book, set in Leeds in 1731. It features Richard Nottingham, who is the Constable for Leeds. He is called upon to investigate the gruesome murder of a man and a woman, who have not only been murdered, but posed, so that the man is on top of the woman, as if in the act of sex. He is aided in this task by his competent deputy, John Sedgwick.
The murdered man is Daniel Morton, a visiting preacher, and to his shock, Richard recognises the woman to be his old maid, Pamela, who had worked for Richard a while ago before marrying, and going to live with her husband, a farmer, outside of Leeds. Richard notices that the 'broken token' he'd given Pamela, originally belonging to his mother, is missing, forcibly removed from the body, presumably by the murderer. He starts to investigate the murders, with the investigation into the exact cause of death limited to a quick look at the bodies before burial. His main detective tools are simply walking around Leeds, and questioning as many people as possible, and in particular, anyone who might have known the two dead people, asking when they were last seen, and who might have wanted to kill them. He finds, to his sadness, that Pamela's husband died, and she was forced back to Leeds to make a living as a prostitute.
In the background to his investigation, are some intriguing details of his home life. He is married with two daughters, and while one is no trouble at all, and about to get married, the other is difficult, and has taken to going off on her own without telling anyone where she is going. There is also the problem of the new mayor, who wants a quick solution to the murders, and threatens to dismiss Richard if this is not forthcoming. There some rather interesting insights into life in Leeds at the time of 1731 as Richard walks around to talk to various people, particularly brothel owners, regarding the murders. And there is the recurring problem of the cutpurse (the thief who 'cuts' purses and steals them away).
Then Richard and John seem to find a possible suspect, a drunkard, who can't remember the events of that night, but was seen in the same inn as both Pamela, and then Daniel. Moreover, despite the fact he can't remember what happened, he confesses, and Richard decides to lock him up. But then another murder takes place, and now the hunt is on again. A third murder then takes place, before finally Richard puts all the pieces together, and together with chance events, and sightings, works out who the murderer is.
All in all, rather a straightforward crime novel, but the setting in 18th century Leeds gives it a fresh feel. Richard is a dedicated and persistent investigator, and there is a satisfying richness to the background detail that makes this book an engrossing read.
Michelle Peckham, England