Review: Gods of Gold

Iain Dalton reviews Gods of Gold by Chris Nickson, Severn House £18.50

Gods of Gold is a mystery fiction. Its title comes from the words of Leeds socialist Tom Maguire’s ‘A New Nursery Rhyme’. Its backdrop is the 1890 Leeds Gas Workers strike which shook the city and in which Maguire was a key leader.

The novel follows a young detective inspector, Tom Harper, examining the case of a young missing girl from a troubled family, when the whole police force is mobilised to ‘keep order’ during the strike. As the dispute goes on and the conflict between gas workers and the council intensifies, the murder of a scab has suspicious links to the girl’s disappearance.

Chris Nickson does a great job in recreating the strike’s atmosphere. He shows the huge confrontation as scabs are escorted under armed guard from the city centre to a gasworks. He also shows the duplicity of the council’s gas committee in lying to these scabs as to what they were there for.

Nickson skilfully captures what 19th century Leeds must have been like, with its slum housing and courts and the city’s domination by the tailoring trades at this time. The plot toys with the tensions between Harper’s sympathy with the strikes and his role in the police – there to protect the better-off classes.

Working class

Harper’s working class background leads to natural sympathies with the strikers, which clashes with his superiors in the police force, in particular his antipathy towards the scabs. On the other hand, there is a distance between Harper and many ordinary people he comes into contact with.

At one point Harper is instructed to find out if a union man killed the scab, when he intimates to Maguire that workers physically attempting to stop scabs entering the gas works may look bad in the press, Maguire responds: “Come on Inspector. When does the press ever treat the working man fairly? We’re already scum to them…”

Further interesting moments include a suspect dying in police custody after being roughed up by one of Harper’s colleagues. Whilst the officer isn’t ultimately responsible for the death, we see the police sweeping the issue under the carpet. This is not the only issue around questions of policing that the book attempts to tackle that wouldn’t look out of place in a novel set in 2015.

The intrigue and corruption elements create a story that is much more topical than perhaps the author thought when he was writing. To say more would ruin the shocking conclusion, which I would rather leave for the reader to discover themselves.