The Tin God by Chris Nickson #BookReview #BlogTour

When Superintendent Tom Harper's wife is threatened during an election campaign, the hunt for the attacker turns personal.
Leeds, England. October, 1897. Superintendent Harper is proud of his wife Annabelle. She's one of seven women selected to stand for election as a Poor Law Guardian. But even as the campaign begins, Annabelle and the other female candidates start to receive anonymous letters from someone who believes a woman's place lies firmly in the home.

The threats escalate into outright violence when an explosion rips through the church hall where Annabelle is due to hold a meeting - with fatal consequences. The only piece of evidence Harper has is a scrap of paper left at the scene containing a fragment from an old folk song. But what is its significance?

As polling day approaches and the attacks increase in menace and intensity, Harper knows he's in a race against time to uncover the culprit before more deaths follow. With the lives of his wife and daughter at risk, the political becomes cruelly personal ... 

I'm delighted to be closing the blog tour for The Tin God by Chris Nickson today, many thanks to the author, publishers and Abby from for inviting me and for my ecopy of the novel.
The Tin God is set in 1897, several years before the women's suffrage movement finally earned women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. However, the Local Government Act of 1894 entitled women who owned property to vote in local elections, become Poor Law Guardians, and act on school boards so Superintendent Tom Harper's wife, Annabelle has decided to stand for election as a Poor Law Guardian in Leeds. Tom and Annabelle realise she will face fierce opposition of course and ignore the first anonymous letter she receives as the work of a crank. When the second letter arrives, Annabelle burns it but the six other women receive the same missive and when Tom reads a copy he begins to suspect that they could be dealing with a dangerous man.
His fears prove correct as the mystery letter writer begins a campaign of intimidation and violence hoping to scare the women into stepping down. As the elections draws ever nearer it becomes a tense race against time to stop him but the only real clues they have are the words to old folk songs he leaves at the scene of each crime. With none of the modern policing methods available to them, Harper and his detectives have to hope the perpetrator will make a mistake at some point but he always seems to be one step ahead of them. And despite not benefiting from current day technology, Tom's struggles to stay on top of his paperwork and to justify the cost of his investigation  - under the watchful eye of the dogmatic, biased Press -  is only too familiar.
Annabelle is a brave and determined woman who refuses to be beaten by this deranged coward but as his attacks lead to the deaths of innocents and threaten the lives of their family, both Tom and Annabelle face some difficult decisions. I really liked Annabelle, she is principled, driven and has a deep understanding of the area she lives and campaigns in. She is standing for election in the fictional ward of Sheepscar where the threat of the workhouse looms large over many of its poor residents and her passionate campaign speeches reflect that. I was struck again here by how little things have really changed; workhouses may be a thing of the past but there's a depressing familiarity to Annabelle's speech when she rails against the richest country in the world spending money on Diamond Jubilee celebrations instead of helping those in need. She is supported throughout by the very likeable and steadfast Tom despite living in an age when many women wouldn't have been as fortunate. There's a lovely warmth to their relationship with each other and in their love for their daughter, Mary. They are both characters who have tremendous appeal and will have the readers rooting for them to both be successful. And how refreshing it is to have a spouse in a crime novel who plays much more than just a secondary role!
This is the sixth book in Chris Nickson's Tom Harper series but it can be read as a standalone. I haven't yet read the previous books and while it would be interesting to read about Harper's rise through the ranks and to understand a little more of the back story suggested at in the subplot, I don't feel I needed to have read them to enjoy this intriguing novel. The secondary plot is set in Whitby and is concerned with Billy, a former colleague of Tom's who has moved to the coast to take on the role of police inspector and becomes involved in an investigation into smuggling. I suspect this storyline is included to move the series arc as a whole forwards. It didn't detract from the thrust of the main plot as I felt it helped build a picture of the Harper family and their relationships with others but it is necessarily less gripping than the hunt for the mystery letter writer.
I've always believed that it's important to learn about history so we can try to avoid making the same mistakes but on reading The Tin God I couldn't help but feel sad and angry that over 120 years later there are still those who try to silence women in politics, who threaten them with violence, and as with Jo Cox, even murder them. It is obviously fascinating to read about those who first persisted and who paved the way for women's suffrage and the feminist movement but Chris Nickson cleverly focuses on the personal distress caused by the attacks, never forgetting that there are people at the heart of politics.
The rich descriptions throughout give the novel a strong sense of time and place; the sights, sounds and smells of the town's industries vividly permeate through the pages so I could almost experience them myself, and the close-knit communities of Leeds and Whitby are brought to evocatively to life. There is nothing sentimentally nostalgic about Chris Nickson's book however, we are never in any doubt that though social change was in the air, these were hard times for many. The Tin God is a superbly researched, riveting and thought-provoking historical mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Tin God is published by Severn House Publishers and can be purchased here. Don't forget to check out the other stops on the tour, details are below.

About the Author
I'm a novelist and music journalist, the author of many books set between the 1730s and 1950s in Leeds, as well as others in medieval Chesterfield and 1980s Seattle.
Above all, though, its Leeds I love, the people, the sense of the place changing with time. Yes, I write mysteries, but ultimately they're books about people and their relationships, and the crime becomes a moral framework for the story. 
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