*I received an Ebook arc in return for an honest review*
The Year Of The Gun by Chris Nickson
1944: Twenty years after WPC Lottie Armstrong was dismissed from the Leeds police force, she’s back, now a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps.
Detective Chief Superintendent McMillan is now head of CID, trying to keep order with a depleted force as many of the male officers have enlisted. This hasn’t stopped the criminals, however, and as the Second World War rages around them, can they stop a blackout killer with a taste for murder?
I am a huge fan of Lottie Armstrong and in-particular the way this author writes strong women in a historical era. Chris Nickson has proved time and time again to me that he can waive in and out the eras with exceptional depth and brilliance.
The novel open in February, Leeds 1944. Lottie has moved on quite some time since the original novel in the series. Leeds has changed, Britain is at war and there are Americans on the streets. Lottie has had 3 months back in uniform as a (WAPC) Women’s Auxiliary police corps. She has returned as Detective Chief Superintendent McMillan’s driver. It is there little secret that she assists on the cases. Leeds is dealing with a new crime wave, crime has changed and developed due to the war. Leeds now faces the black market, gangs, deserters and prostitution move than ever!
Also criminals now have easy access to guns…….
At Millgarth station Lottie is back into her new routine, finding a new way to deal with the loss of her husband recently. Geoff having past from a heart attack at the beginning of the war. Lottie is now alone in the world and it sadly shows….
When Lottie and McMillan are summoned to the scene of a murder, the novel takes a distinct turn towards the historical crime fiction genre, that I adore!
At Kirkstall Abbey the body of a young ATS private has been found. She has been shot and left in the isolated and remote location. McMillan hints that this will need to be hushed up, for fear of it creating bad morale to the public. The victim Kate Patterson was a kinthedolite operator, who liked the wilder side of life. Having lost her fiancé in North Africa, she has known the harshness of war. Local special constable George Chadwick mentions to local tramps Harry Giddins and Leslie Armistead.
They bear the scars of the Great war but may have witnessed something in the vicinity.
Lottie and McMillan continue to investigate, discovering fresh evidence at Woodmarsh House and a possible link to an American soldier. They begin to investigate these links further when a second body is found. A WAAF on leave is found in the woods, just ¼ a mile from the Kirkstall Abbey. Anne Goodman also bears the same MO, a gunshot wound and missing undergarments.
But what is the link between the victims?
Why does the killer remove their knickers?
When they learn of a missing consignment of American weapons that match the ballistics of the murder weapon. They begin to question if this is the work of an American troop. Through their investigations they meet Captain Clifford Ellison. Ellison agrees to work with the duo to track the weapons and resolve the case. He also becomes a potential love interest for Lottie, which leads to some awkward and moving encounters.
When a third body is discovered the case really heats up. What’s the connection? Is this killer targeting woman doing their duty for their country? The body of the third victim is later on, identified as the first victim in chronological order. So what is so special about Pamela Dixon, that the killer chose to kill her first? Being stationed at Portsmouth and originally from Birmingham, why was she even in Leeds?
The case throws up question, after question.
Lottie and McMillan begin to believe that the killer is pretending to be in the military to earn the women’s trust or romantic interest. Is this a real life killer Walter Mitty? when reports come in of a missing daughter, Lottie immediately begins to suspect their killer is working at rapid speed. They eventually have a prime suspect by the name of Terry Cruickshank. A local deserter, down on his luck. But when sends McMillan a note to say “I told the girl who works for you. I didn’t kill anyone. I would never kill a girl”. Their suspicions begin to wane. Also how do they know they can trust Ellison so blindly, when he has links to the US generals?
This novel has a very clever twisted plot, that keeps you guessing till the end! As stated above the author has a unique flair for writing female characters exceptionally well! This is one ww2 fiction novel, not to be missed!
Q) For the readers, can you give a summary of yourself and your various novels in historical eras?
A) There are…well, quite a few novels, most of them set in Leeds. I started out writing about Richard Nottingham, the Constable of Leeds in the 1730s, an era few writers seem to cover – and Leeds because it’s my hometown, the one I know in my bones. I’ve just returned to Richard after a break of over four years. Then there’s the 1890s, a series with Detective Inspector (now Superintendent) Tom Harper and his wife, Annabelle. Add to that a couple of book with Dan Markham, an enquiry agent in the 1950s. And then there’s Lottie, first as a policewoman in the 1920s in Modern Crimes, and now back again in World War II. Finally, a series set in Chesterfield in the 1360s, and finally two books set in the Seattle music scene of the 1980s/90s. I’ve lived in all the places I write about; to me, you have to do that, to feel them.
Q) The novel and creation of Lottie Armstrong, must have some form of inspiration. I am dying to know what inspired you to write Lottie’s story?
A) Lottie first came to me after reading that the first two policewomen in Leeds both resigned within months of each other. In the official history of Leeds Police, no reason was given, and that intrigued me. Lottie’s story was supposed to be a one-off, but after I’d finished Modern Crimes I just felt I wasn’t done with her yet. She still had more she wanted to say. The problem was how to bring her back, given the resolution of that book. Twenty years later as a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps (WAPC) seemed like the answer.
Q) The locations in the novel such as, Kirkstall Abbey, Woodmarsh house, The Queen hotel, and the Castle grove area HQ. Are they real locations or inspired by real locations?
A) They’re all real locations. Every location is real. Even Lottie’s house is the one where I grew up. Those make it far more real and tangible to me – and, I hope, to the reader, and add to the feel of place. I’ve been told that Leeds is a character in my books. If people get that impression, I’m very grateful.
Q) The novel has so many twists/turns and various character’s. How do you keep track of the plot in the planning/writing?
A) I don’t plot out a book, I simply go where the characters take me, and trust they’re right. Sometime I have to backtrack and change things, but mostly I’m discovering as I write, which makes it much more fun and gives the characters their head so much more.
Q) I love ww2 fiction, as you and everyone knows! I like to feel immersed in the era and as though I am watching it all take place. Do you adapt this to your writing, do you listen to the music of the era or watch the movies?
A) I was born nine years after the war ended, but it was still so tangible that it might have ended yesterday. So that sense of it pervaded my childhood. We actually had an air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden. My dad fought in the war; it was all very real. But yes, I listened to plenty of the music, although I knew much of it already. I’d seen so many of the movies when I was young.
Q) What is your research process and what was it like to research The Year Of The Gun?
A) My research process tends to be read, read, read, and I there was plenty of that. Finding out about life during wartime, especially for women. And on top of that, what Leeds was like during that period. But I love research, it’s this constant voyage of discovery that fascinates me. And finding out more about Leeds in different periods is a constant joy. I have shelves of books about Leeds history.
Q) I was really surprised you never used the term ‘Walter Mitty’ but then I am unsure if the term was coined post ww2. Were you inspired by any real-life Walter Mitty’s?
A) No, I wasn’t. My characters just seemed to exist within the story, except for Lottie, who’s bigger than that. If I could figure out some way to reasonably continue her take, I would at some point. She’s one of the characters I simply love, that seem to stride off the page, even to me.
Q) I have said previously and Lottie is one of the perfect examples, that you write female characters exceptionally well. Is this tough as a male author? Do you refer to the females in your personal life? Or do you write from the heart?
A) I’ve known, and I do know, plenty of strong women. But even more, I think the North is full of them; they’ve had to be strong to survive. I suppose, though, that I’m really writing from the heart. Annabelle Harper, for instance, is incredibly strong, but she’s almost superhuman. Lottie is extraordinary simply because she’s so ordinary. Women are stronger than me. I’ve always believed that, and it seems to come out in quite a few of my books. I hope it does, anyway.
Q) Finally, What is next for you, in terms of novel releases? What are you currently working on and are we allowed any snippets of information?
A) Next month sees the publication of Free From All Danger, the seventh Richard Nottingham book, and the first in the series in over four years. It’s been interesting going back to him and seeing how he’s changed. He retired as Constable – for now, anyway – and he’s a little older and wiser, I hope.
May of next year will bring The Tin God, the next Tom Harper book. That sees Annabelle among a number of women running to be Poor Law Guardians in Leeds, even as a man is determined to keep women out of politics by any means necessary. Women could run for some local offices then, and even vote in some local elections. The book just felt like a gift; it seemed to write itself. The launch will be folded into an exhibition called The Vote Before the Vote at Leeds Central Library, curated by the woman who gave me the idea for the novel. Apt timing, as it’s the centenary of some women getting the vote.
Later in 2018, The Dead On Leave will appear, set in 1936. It’s another Leeds crime novel, about the fight against creeping fascism. More apt timing, perhaps!
Web site: https://chrisnickson.co.uk/
Chris Nickson has written since he was a boy growing up in Leeds, starting with a three-paragraph school essay telling a tale of bomb disposal when he was 11. That brought the revelation that he enjoyed telling stories, and then more stories, teenage poetry, and music, as both a bassist and then a singer-songwriter-guitarist.
Chris spent 30 years living in the US, playing in bands and writing. He’s made a living as a writer since 1994. Much of his work has been music journalism, combining the twin passions of music and writing, specialising in world and roots music. His reviews and features are published in print and online, notably with fRoots, Sing Out!, emusic.com, and allmusic.com. He’s also the author of The NPR Casual Listener’s Guide to World Music.
Chris has also published 28 other non-fiction books, most of them quickie biographies, and has had a pair of one act plays staged in Seattle. His short fiction has appeared in several small magazines, and in the anthology Criminal Tendencies. A collection of his short Leeds fiction appeared under the title, Leeds, The Biography.
He moved back to the UK in 2005. The Broken Token was published by Creme de la Crime in 2010. The second of the Leeds novels featuring Richard Nottingham appeared in hardback in May 2011 with the third and fourth (The Constant Lovers and Come the Fear) appearing in 2012. The fifth and six in the series (At the Dying of the Year and Fair and Tender Ladies) arrived in 2013. The seventh novel, Free From All Danger, will appear in October 2017, Cold Cruel Winter was named one of the Best Mysteries of the Year in 2011 by Library Journal, and the audio book of The Broken Token was one of the Independent on Sunday’s Audiobooks of 2012.
Emerald City and West City Blues, two books featuring Seattle music journalist Laura Benton, are available on ebook and audiobook.
The Crooked Spire is set in Chesterfield in 1361 and can be found in paperback and ebook, as can the sequel, The Saltergate Psalter. The final volume in the trilogy, The Holywell Dead, will appear in 2017.
A series set in Leeds in the 1890s features Detective Inspector Tom Harper. Gods of Gold is the first volume, followed by Two Bronze Pennies, Skin Like Silver, The Iron Water, and On Copper Street. The Tin God is scheduled for publication in May 2017.
Dark Briggate Blues is a 1950s noir, with enquiry agent Dan Markham and also taking place in Leeds, as does The New Eastgate Swing, the second volume to feature Markham.
Lottie Armstrong, one of the first policewomen in Leeds, was the heroine of Modern Crimes, set in 1924. She reappears 20 years later in The Year of the Gun.
Chris is also the author of Solid Air – The Life of John Martyn. This appeared as an ebook and print on demand in June 2011, along with John’s posthumous album and a tribute CD that features many major names.
*Huge thanks to the author Chris Nickson for agreeing to be part of a Q&A on my blog. I wish you every success with the release of your new novel.