First Sentence: She sensed him there, behind her in the fog.
Simon West, with his assistant Jane, and wife Rose, is a thief-taker. When petty thief Laurance Poole, who robbed Alderman Sir Matthew Fullbrook, is found dead, Simon is worried he may be arrested. Instead, he is surprised to be hired by Constable Williams to find the killer. After Simon finds a notebook written in code, he is drawn into the dangerous job of exposing those behind a rash of burglaries. It is up to Simon, Jane, and Rose to keep a priceless item safe, find a killer, and stay alive.
It is always a relief when an author draws new readers into a series yet makes them feel right at home, especially when there is suspense from almost the first page. Even better is when it is the third book in the series, and one feels no lack for not having read the previous two. Nickson sets the tone with his descriptions of Leeds, a city he calls home and whose history he knows extremely well. He depicts an industrial-age city chocked by smoke, dirt, and grime all in the name of progress—"I don't think Leeds will ever be clean again,…"
This is not a book set in genteel drawing rooms, but in the homes, streets, and alleys of the working, and non-working class, just trying to survive as best they can—"He had no one to look after his mother while he was gone. No money to pay for a companion for her. He had no choice but to tie her in the chair to stop her from wandering." Yet the author's voice conveys caring and compassion.
Nickson's characters are alive and fascinating. One learns their backgrounds, often through memories, fleshing them out but still leaving a shadow around them, especially the character of Martha. An unreliable character always heightens the suspense. Watching how the three main characters use their contacts to track the clues, one step at a time, adds a sense of constant tension. Nickson's female characters are anything but minor characters or ones waiting for a man to rescue them. Jane gives as good, if not better than she gets. She is somewhat feral and works on grit. Rose, Simon's wife, is his partner in life and in craft. She depends on guile, intellect, and having the right wardrobe.
As the story progresses, suspense builds at a heart-stopping pace, aided by excellent plot twists, and an unanswered question at the end. One really can't help but wonder why this very prolific author is not better known than he is.
"To the Dark" is an exciting book filled with twists and climax after climax, but still leaving questions unanswered at the end. With female characters as clever and capable as the men, the author created a tense, suspenseful tale in a city he so obviously loves.
TO THE DARK (HisMys-Simon West/Jane-Leeds, England-1822) – VG+
Nickson, Chris – 3rd in series
Severn House, Feb 2021, 238 pp.