by: Chris Nickson
Review by: Mark Palm
"Fair and Tender Ladies" by Chris Nickson is the sixth book in the Richard Nottingham Historical Series. Coming in to a series is never optimal, but this books seems to stand well on its own. Heaven knows that there is usually a lot of textural depth to a series, but if wishes were fishes we'd all cast nets.
This book set in Leeds, England, in 1734, follows the life of Richard Nottingham, Constable, and the lives of his his daughter, Emily and the Constable's deputies. It starts with a suspected murderer being stabbed by a mob, moves on to a young farmer looking for his runaway teen sister, and before long the constable is investigating one, then two, then three murders. Also someone is vandalizing the school for girls that his daughter runs.
The body count is small, and the Mr. Nickson is a subtle writer. Descriptions and characters are swift and sparse, and the majority of the book consists of Richard and his two main deputies walking over Leeds and talking to it many and varied citizens. These scenes too are rather spare, and for a time I felt like a needed a dramatis personae to keep track of everyone.
About a third of the way in I noticed something, with all of these nagging little complaints still on my mind I was moving briskly through the novel. There is a lot to be said for many weapons of the writers arsenal, but one that is usually overlooked is the ability to make the reader want to know what happens next. Sure this book is low-keyed, but I cared about the characters and their story. They were grounded and real, and deeper into the book the story became more tense, and even tragic. Understand that this is not a book full of fireworks and stunt-writing; but Mr. Nickson seems to understand that sometimes, the best way to cook is with a low, slow flame.