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Cover from Chris Nickson's 'Two Bronze Pennies'

Cover from Chris Nickson’s ‘Two Bronze Pennies’

Chris Nickson’s latest book picks up just months after we left the story of Detective Tom Harper in his previous story ‘Gods of Gold’. Looking forward to a quite Christmas, the calm in Leeds is interrupted by a series of racially motivated murders in the Leylands, the old Jewish quarter of the city.

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party

Once again the themes running through the book, this time of migration and the reaction to it, is very current given the crises in the Mediterranean and at Calais. The horror of the pogroms that Jewish communities throughout Europe faced at the turn of the nineteenth century, isn’t light years away from the devastation on countries in the Middle East & North Africa which have descended into chaos following military campaigns by imperialist powers.

Of course, it wasn’t just Jewish communities that were the subject of racism in that period, massive migration from Ireland was also a feature as a result of famine and dispossession of their land at the behest of English landlords. But for capitalism such migration of desperation is a useful tool to play off different communities against each other to drive down pay and conditions, boosting profits. As one character notes (of migrants) in the book, “Everyone knows they’ll work for nothing, so why would the bosses pay a real wage?”

But without an internationalist class-based outlook of organising all workers to fight for the rate for the job then such division can descend into racism and violence. Nickson’s book ably demonstrates, with Harper and the rest of the police largely unable to do anything to stop the conflict.

Whilst interesting contemporary events are woven around the story including a fire at a school in Wortley and the disappearance of Louis le Prince, these are not intrinsic to the main storyline and instead serve as interesting diversions.

In reality Tom Maguire (who features as a minor charcter in the book) and others in the trade unions were able to bring workers together through trade unions which meant Leeds remained freer than many other places of such conflict around employment and migration in that period.

Two Bronze Pennies is a good follow-on to Gods of Gold and leaves you looking forward to the next installment, but for me it didn’t quite reach the same heights as its predecessor.