Excerpt from The Hocus Girl by Chris Nickson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Hocus Girl

A Simon Westow mystery

by Chris Nickson

The Hocus Girl by Chris Nickson X
The Hocus Girl by Chris Nickson
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 29, 2020, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Lyndal Martin
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Excerpt
THE HOCUS GIRL

Leeds, May 1822

The man uncurled his fist to show the pocket watch. Candlelight reflected and shimmered on the gold.

'Open it up,' Simon Westow said.

Inside the cover, an inscription: From Martha to Walter, my loving husband.

'See?' the man said. 'The real thing, that is. Proper gold. Keeps good time and—'

The knife at his throat silenced him.

'And it was stolen three days ago,' Simon said. He held the blade steady, stretching the man's skin without breaking it. 'Where's the rest?' With a gentle touch, he lifted the watch out of the man's palm and slipped it into his pocket. 'Well?'

'Don't know.' The man gasped the words. His head was pushed back against the wall, neck exposed. 'I bought this from Robby Barstow.'

'When?' A little more pressure, enough to bring a single drop of warm blood.

'Last night.'

The man's eyes were wide, pleading, the whites showing. It was the truth. He was too terrified to lie.

'Then you'd best tell Robby I'm coming for him.'

'What—'

'About the watch?'

'Yes.' He breathed out the word, trying not to move at all.

'Consider it a bad investment.'

Outside, he blinked in the light. A coach rumbled past on the Head Row, the driver trying to make good time on his way to Skipton.

Simon would hunt for Barstow later. The watch was the important item; Walter Haigh was desperate to have it returned, a gift from his late wife. He'd promised a fine reward.

That was what a thief-taker did. Find what had been stolen and return it for a fee.


Market day. Briggate was packed, trestles set up on either side of the street. People forced their way through the crowds. Carts were at a standstill below the Moot Hall, horses waiting patiently in their traces.

'No taxes, no charge for the post, porter a ha'penny a gallon. That's what we need.' The voice rang out sharp and clear, keening high above the hubbub to make people stop and stare. 'The kingdom of Shiloh is coming, and after it the Angel of the Lord will bring an earthquake to sink the world.'

Simon paused, amused. The country was full of fools with visions. This one was an old man in dusty, tattered clothes, with a white prophet's beard hanging down to his chest. He drew in a breath, ready to bellow more. But before he could continue, two members of the watch pinned him by the arms and dragged him roughly away, kicking over the small pile of tracts by his feet. Simon picked one up, glanced at it briefly, then tossed it back with the others.

He spotted Rosie. The bright blue plume of her hat rose tall over all the heads around her. Reaching her took longer, squeezing and pushing, easing between the press of bodies.

He saw a young girl deftly stealing two apples while the stall holder's head was turned. A man cut a woman's purse strings, sliding away before she could notice.

Leeds, Simon thought. Its greedy heart never changed.

'All done?' she said. She hadn't turned her head; she simply seemed to know he was there. She wore a gown that reached to her ankles, a deep shade of indigo with a patterned bodice and puffed oversleeves. Dressed up in her finery, just like him in his black frock coat, close-fitting trousers and neatly striped waist- coat. And armed, always; Rosie carried a knife, hidden away in the pocket of her dress. Simon had three; one on his belt, another in his boot, the third in a sheath up his sleeve. He'd taught himself to use them well; the job was dangerous.

'Yes. Simple enough.'

'Take a look at this.' Rosie's fingers rubbed the worn velvet of a dress, russet and gold.

'What about it?'

'It used to belong to Katherine Wainwright. I remember her wearing it.'

She'd been Rosie's closest friend, older, softer, then gone, dead for five years now. A sickness that arrived in the night, robbing her of breath and filling her lungs with liquid.

Excerpted from The Hocus Girl by Chris Nickson. Copyright © 2020 by Chris Nickson. Excerpted by permission of Severn House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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