The Crooked Spire by Chris Nickson
Book review by GJ Williams
The Medieval Crime Mystery genre is my favourite. Most of us tend to think of the big-guns such as S.J. Parris and C. J. Samson but there are many more authors out there creating good tales in shorter books which are often more accessible and easy going than the ‘masters’ of the genre. Chris Nickson’s John Carpenter series falls into this category. You may not have all the backdrop of social history and current politics, but you do get a simple tale, well told.
This first book in the series introduces us to John Carpenter, a travelling carpenter who has moved from city to city working on various structures since the death of his father in the great plague. The character is a simple, decent man, who takes pride in his craft and is driven to seek out truth. In this tale, set in 1360, he arrives in Chesterfield to seek work on the building of the new church. Within a few days of arriving, the chief carpenter is found murdered at the top of the tower and John finds himself under suspicion. Undaunted, he meets the local coroner and is believed, then finds himself turning medieval detective with the help of a local lad who is considered low in wit, but has loyalty and determination without which John cannot succeed. Naturally, there is the love interest. Will she turn John’s head with her strength and bright spirit? No spoiler here.
The Crooked Spire is a very easy read. You will be through it no time. The pace is constant and the description of clothes and language used tells us that Chris Nickson has done his research. If anything, I think he could have put more description into the book, giving us more of the sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere of a medieval market town. Likewise, a splash about the social context, the power of the church and wealthy nobles would have made this story more 3D. Likewise, I would have liked John Carpenter to have more of an imperative than wanting to find out for justice. If he was facing the gallows himself it would have added to the tension. That said, it is a good read if you love the genre. Even better, Chris Nickson is evidently a prolific writer. This book was written in 2013 and already there are three in the series. He has also written the Richard Nottingham series (to be reviewed soon) set in the 1730s. So if you like to get your teeth into a run of tales, then Chris Nickson is an author to look at.
About the Author
Chris Nickson is something of a mystery in himself. At the back of the book, you learn he is a well-known journalist and lives in Leeds, but there is little more about him. However, a peek on his and his agent’s website tells us that he has led a varied life both in Leeds and the USA and knew at the age of 11 that he wanted to be a writer. The Crooked Spire is the first of three (so far) in the series and there are another four historical crime series.