They say that those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. It’s a cliché, but like most clichés, there’s more than an element of truth to it. Attitudes may change over time (witness the way we now view gays and lesbians in society, for example), but at their core, humans change little – there’s nothing new under the sun. Pretty much everything that happens now has occurred before.
That’s been one of the underlying premises of my Richard Nottingham novels. He’s the Constable of Leeds in the 1730s, effectively the head of the police force, had there been such a beast then (just as the real Richard Nottingham was). The Leeds of that period really did see a huge divide between the rich – the successful wool merchants who ran the corporation – and the poor, who made up most of the rest of the population. Like many with power and wealth, the people at the top will cling to money and position in any way they can, and think little of exploitation.
Without dragging out a soapbox, the novels are political. The fifth, At the Dying of the Year, completed before the truth about Jimmy Savile emerged, dealt with the abuse and murder of homeless children, and the way those with deep pockets will protect each other against threats.
And now it’s time for the new one – Fair and Tender Ladies. The politics are there again, the way those in power would gladly sweep the poor and vulnerable out of sight and more (not going to give much away, of course, but read it and you’ll be able to see the analogy between then and now for yourself). Yet those politics are displayed in a slightly different way. More than anything, this is a book that celebrates strong women. Some good, some bad.
In the North strong women have long been celebrated. Think of Cartimandua. Or the early days of Coronation Street, which were filled with strong women. Read most Northern writers of the last hundred years and you’ll find them there, the linchpins of society. They kept the homes going when there was little money and little work for the menfolk. Strong women would have existed in the 1730s, too, making a farthing do a halfpenny’s work. The essence of human nature doesn’t really change.
Just one small reminder, though. This is a murder mystery, not a tract or a polemic. There’s death, destruction and detection involved. But then again, those have been part of life since it began, too.
Welcome to the Leeds of Constable Richard Nottingham. Say hello to the Fair and Tender Ladies.
Fair and Tender Ladies by Chris Nickson will be available in the UK as of 30th September 2013, and in the USA as of 01st January 2014, from Severn House Publishers.