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Recent review

‘The Blood Covenant’ by Chris Nickson

Published by Severn House
30 December 2021
ISBN: 978-0-7278-5048-5 (HB)

It is October 1823 and thief-taker Simon Westrow is struggling back to health after several weeks of a feverish illness. He has returned to his work, which mainly involves tracking down thieves and retrieving stolen property for the citizens of Leeds who have employed him, but he knows that he is far from possessing his usual energy, sharpness and endurance. Having just completed a case, he feels exhausted as he walks home. He encounters Dr Hey, a physician who attended him during his illness and it is obvious that the doctor has something on his mind. He is aware that, three years ago, Simon had given evidence to a commission investigating child labour and abuse and he offers Simon some notes he has made about two dead boys whose bodies he examined. When Simon reads the notes, it brings back memories of his own childhood when, from the age of four to thirteen, he was ill-treated in the workhouse and the mill. Simon has escaped the abuse and made a new life for himself with his adored wife, Rosie, and their twin sons, but the two boys in Dr Hey’s notes have been denied this opportunity because they were beaten to death by a mill overseer. Haunted by his memories, Simon cannot sleep and goes out to walk through Leeds. It is because of this that he happens upon two men who have just fished the body of a man out of the river: the man was murdered, and his right hand has been cut off.

The next morning, returning to where the body was discovered, Simon encounters the brother of the dead man, who has recently returned from America. He asks Simon to investigate his brother’s death. Although his main business is tracking thieves and retrieving property, Simon has hunted people before, however this time he follows his instincts and refuses the job.

Back at his house, Simon finds another prospective client awaiting him, one who offers him the sort of job he is usually happy to accept, that of recovering stolen property. However, Simon is wary about accepting this commission: Thomas Arden is one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Leeds and also one of the most ruthless and dangerous. Although Simon knows that Arden’s fortune was acquired through crime, he reluctantly accepts the task of recovering some candlesticks stolen from Arden’s profligate, vicious son, but agrees with Rosie when she warns him not to trust Arden. Simon succeeds in recovering the candlesticks but when Arden discovers the identity of the thief his reaction initiates an escalating spiral of violence and revenge.

Simon’s assistant, Jane, has kept their partnership solvent during his illness. Jane is a very dangerous young woman, lethal with a knife and able to move through the streets of Leeds like a shadow as she tracks her prey, as well as possessing an instinct that warns her when she is being stalked. Also, she has no hesitation or qualms of conscience when she kills. Jane spent several years living on the streets after her father raped her and her mother threw her out. At that time, she had no gentler feelings for anybody but now she feels respect and loyalty for Simon and his family and deep affection for Mrs Shields, the elderly lady who has given her a home. Mrs Shields has been ill and caring for her has brought out new depths of domesticity and tenderness in the emotionally damaged girl. When her father turns up in Leeds, Jane is bitter and vengeful. He claims that he has come to ask for Jane’s forgiveness, but she does not believe in his penitence nor is she willing to forgive. She threatens him and orders him to leave Leeds but knows he is unlikely to obey her command.

Simon cannot forget the two boys beaten to death. He discovers the identity of the mill owner and establishes a long-term link between him and Thomas Arden. Even though Simon knows he has little chance of improving the culture of brutality in the mill he embarks on a campaign to force a change. The deeper he probes the clearer it becomes that all the crimes and relationships are woven together to form a noose of brutality and revenge. The enemies Simon arouses are so powerful in Leeds that they can commit murder with impunity, and he realises he has set in action a chain of deadly events that is out of his control. What is more, unless he can gain the upper hand, the thirst for vengeance that he has unleashed could cost him the most precious things in his life.

The Blood Covenant is the fourth book in the series featuring Simon Westrow. It is a book with a strong moral message, as it explores vengeance and the relationships between fathers and sons. It also reveals the way power and wealth can corrupt and pervert decency and justice, a message that is as relevant today as it was two hundred years ago. Simon, Rosie and Jane are all engaging protagonists, willing to risk all to safeguard the safety of those they love, and the plot is swift-moving and well considered. The Blood Covenant is a page turner which I recommend.
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Reviewer: Carol Westron

Signed first editions available from Goldboro Books