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The Hocus Girl

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The Hocus Girl
by Chris Nickson

Severn House 
Severn House Publishers

Severn House
 [Historical Fiction]
  Mystery & Thrillers 
Pub Date 07 Jan 2020 

I am reviewing a copy of Hocus Girl through Severn House and Netgalley:

Simon Westow is a thief taker who must save one of his friends from a grim fate at the hands of the government in this compelling historical mystery.

The Hocus Girl  transports you back to Leeds in 1822.  Simon Westow, thief taker owes Davey and Emily Ashton everything.  The siblings gave him a safe place when he needed it most.  After Davey is arrested for sedition and Emily begs Simon for help,  As he starts to answer questions so he can clear his friend.  Could the answers be linked to rumors or a government spy in town?

Davey is not the only one who needs Simon’s help though.  George Ericsson is a timber merchants who has been hocussed  by a young woman who spiked his drink and stole his valuable ring and watch.  Who was this woman, and how does she know one of Simon's assistant Jane’s deepest secrets? The path to the truth is twisted and dangerous.  Simon and Jane encounter murder, lies and betrayal.  A government who is terrified by its own workers, as they attempt Davey and to find the hocus girl.

I give The Hocus Girl five out of five stars!

Happy Reading!
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Set in Leeds, May 1822 and life is a grim existence. Simon Westow suffered greatly as a child and the demons invade his dreams and his battles don't end there. Leeds is a city of stark contrasts and Simon floats between them working as a thief taker, working for clients to find what has been stolen for a fee. His assistant is a mysterious young woman named Jane with her own dark past. She lodges with Simon and his wife, Rosie. The usual search for what has been stolen shares his time when his friend, Davy, is arrested and charged with sedition. Knowing that Davy is completely innocent, Simon puts himself in danger to clear him and get him released from his dank jail cell.
This is a gritty, well crafted mystery full of political dangers, the upper crust, spies and murder. It's the second in the series but the first that I have read. It worked well as a stand alone and I will be adding the previous entry, The Hanging Psalm to my TBR list.
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Have you ever read a book and wanted to know MORE? If you’re like me then you probably have, but I don’t think I’ve anticipated a next book more eagerly than when I waited for The Hocus Girl. To quickly recap, in The Hanging Psalm, readers are introduced to thief-taker, Simon Westow, and his assistant Jane. A thief-taker is someone who hunts down stolen items and returns them to their rightful owners for a fee. Simon, Jane, his wife and his sons, live in gritty 19th century Leeds. It’s the time of the Industrial Revolution, and great change is taking place. New machines are being invented, and man’s place in the world is shifting. Leeds is full of mills and mines, and the first commercially viable steam engine has been built on the city’s outskirts. 

The Hocus Girl carries three distinct storylines which occasionally intertwine with one another. Primarily, Simon must discover whether his former mentor is guilty of treason because he dares to express different ideas. What is treason anyway? Is it merely expressing thoughts against the government and “the way of things,” or is it acting against said government and leadership forces? His investigation will eventually take him into the world of industrial espionage. Another plot point revolves around Simon’s desire to see his twin sons get the formal education he never got. And then there’s Jane. She was easily the most intriguing character of The Hanging Psalm and, while we get a bit more of her story here, she’s still a mystery. She’s also more dangerous than previously presumed. 

A fascinating aspect of The Hocus Girl – and, indeed, Nickson’s other books – is how the author brings alive the city and daily life for its inhabitants. Nickson examines everything from religion to manufacturing, including education, justice, and social life. As someone who used to live near Leeds, I was struck by how much smaller the city seemed every instance that a character walked into the countryside. I also found it fascinating that some of the aspects of the main plot were based on actual events. 

The ending felt like the ending of the series, which was disappointing because of the length of Nickson’s other series. The great news is that there are at least two more books to come. Not only does Nickson write brilliant stories with endings that leave the reader breathless, I’m certain there are still secrets about Jane left to uncover.

Disclaimer: Although I received a copy of this book from the publisher, the words and opinions below are my own.
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Chris Nickson in the Hocus Girl has early nineteenth century England misuse of government powers under review. A man is falsely accused of sedition in order for someone to make a private gain. Luckily he has friends who pursue the matter.
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This book is second in a series.  I started here without reading the first one, but didn't feel lost.  I think the characters seem to have some rich history, but I'm not sure how much of it is actually covered in the first book.  
The story is told in alternating points of view of thieftaker Simon and his assistant, Jane.  The only thing that bothered me was how quickly the story would switch between Simon and Jane.  Instead of going chapter by chapter, the point of view would often switch as much as every few paragraphs.  It usually started with a sentence giving you an indicator that the character had changed, but it was still a little distracting that there was no demarcation in spacing or any markers to let you know a switch was happening.  Other than that, the book is obviously well-researched, I think the dialogue is realistic for the time-period, and the plot is well-paced.  

Jane is a very complex character, probably would have some very interesting diagnoses in today's world.  She works very hard to not have emotions, to do her job without thought or reservations, and to never hesitate if it comes to violence or killing.  She resides in the attic of Simon's family home, but does not interact with the family, and seems determined not get close to or open up to anyone.  She has one trusted friend, and keeps those interactions very separate from the rest of her life.  She's also prone to self-harm, cutting herself as punishment for failures and distraction from problems.  

Simon is an experienced thieftaker, married, two boys.  His wife is retired from the life of thieftaking.  They used to work together, so she is very understanding of his work and the dangers that come with it.  Occasionally when help is needed she seems to step back into the work she sometimes misses. 

Simon and Jane find themselves stretched thin as they fight to free an innocent man, opposed at every turn by corrupt officials and their hired muscle, Jane pursues a foe of her with a secret agenda, and Simon continues to take work to find lost items and protect proprietary secrets.    

I enjoyed the story, even if the ending was a little lackluster.  I would go back and read the first book and definitely carry on with the series.
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A gripping and well researched historical thriller that I really liked.
I loved to learn more about the characters and loved the vivid historical background.
It is darker than the previous instalment but as entertaining as the first one.
I loved the well thought cast of characters, the historical background and the solid mystery that kept me guessing.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to Severn House and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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Colorful Georgian mystery!

1822, Simon Westow is a thief taker in Leeds.  What is a thief taker? They, "Find what had been stolen and return it for a fee." Things have been going well for Simon and his family, including the mysterious Jane.
However his friend Davey has been arrested for sedition. Now Simon, his wife Rosie and Jane the disturbed young woman who lives with them are investigating why Davy. The puzzle will lead back to high places. Fearful of more political unrest its rumored that the government has a spy operating in the area. It would seem these shadowy figures have had truck with Thomas Curzon, a wealthy mill owner and the magistrate.
Curzon wants to make a name for himself. He has aspirations lean towards a lordship. That effort threatens Simon and his friends, and ultimately will turn back to bite Curzon, but not before more deaths ensue.
Operating within Simon's group is a code of help, about helping those who've helped you. Neither Simon or Jane forget those who have shown kindness. Simon with Davy and Emily, Jane with an older woman, Catherine Shields. It's here we learn more about the withdrawn, troubled Jane who is a cutter. Catherine's house "was the only place Jane had been where she felt completely safe, utterly free. She always found peace here."
Mixed up in all this is the Hocus Girl, a girl the thief tracker is hired to find. But this is also a girl who seems to be able to track Jane. 
Jane of the "hidden life," the girl no one sees, the girl who has a gift of blending in so completely that she becomes invisible. Jane is alarmed and puzzled.
Apparently being hocussed is where 'something [is put] in your drink to make you pass out so [someone] could rob you.’ Who and what is the Hocus Girl? A danger to Jane and to Simon it would seem.
My fascination really lies with Jane.
In my review of The Hanging Psalm" I asked the question,  "Can she become more or is she destined to a life lived within the confines of her traumatic past, allowing it to define her?"
That's partly answered here. As more of the veil about Jane is lifted we see some of her early life. Make no mistake though. Jane will kill.
In this look at the thief taker and his friends, work becomes mixed with friendship and duty.
In some ways Simon, Rosie and Jane move beyond their old lives into new pathways.
A thought provoking mystery!

A Severn House ARC via NetGalley
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The Hocus Girl by Chris Nickson is a fast paced, well written historical mystery.  It is the second in the Simon Westow series.  While I haven't had a chance to read the first, The Hanging Psalm, that did not interfere with my enjoyment of The Hocus Girl and I didn't feel like I was missing any pertinent information.  

Set in Leeds in 1822, Simon Westow, a renown thieftaker, is on a mission to find a mysterious spy he's only heard rumors of in order to free his friend, Davey Ashton, who has been imprisoned on charges of sedition.  As a thieftaker, he is also hired by the rich and elite to recover stolen items.  His assistant, Jane, a young girl who has grown up on the streets, helps him on all his cases.  When they are hired by Swedish timber merchant, George Ericsson, to recover a ring stolen by a hocus girl, ties begin to connect to Jane's brutal past.

I really enjoyed The Hocus Girl.  It was fast paced, well written, filled with fascinating characters, and a storyline that makes you yearn to keep reading because you have to know what will happen next.

Thanks to Severn House and Netgalley for the free review copy in exchange for an honest review!
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Monsters don't always live inside your head.........

Simon Weston knows this only too well since he was a child cruelly disciplined in the workhouses of Leeds. And nightmares don't only visit at night. They walk the streets no matter what time and cast weighty shadows against your own.

It's Leeds in May of 1822 and the air is smouldering in dark soot from the non-stop factories and then heavily dusted in the aftermath of coalfields and mighty locomotives that run along its tracks. Simon watches his steps forward as well as where he's already been. He's a well-known thief-taker whose business is finding lost and stolen items for those wishing to pay the price for their return.

But Simon is engaged in the return of something more valuable than stolen items these days. Emily Ashton is guided into Simon's house by his wife, Rosie. Emily is beside herself and reveals that her brother, Davey, has been thrown into prison for sedition. Davey has his own library within their house and has been known to print news contrary to the government every now and then. Someone has been targeting Davey and he's paying a heavy price.

Chris Nickson always presents well-researched novels that use actual historical facts as a springboard into his fast-paced and attention getting storylines. The Hocus Girl emphasizes how justice, the law, and the truth may travel down separate, irregular roads. Government interference into the lives of its citizens leans hard on the very freedoms that have been hard fought.

The Hocus Girl is definitely character driven with the concluding chapters raising the tension level to the nth degree. Nickson knows the streets of Leeds and he's always had his finger on the pulse of its occupants. Grab The Hanging Psalm #! if you want to get deeper into this exciting series. Well done, Chris Nickson, always so well done.

I received a copy of The Hocus Girl through NetGalley for an honest review. My thanks to Severn House and to Chris Nickson for the opportunity.
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The Hocus Girl is a fine continuation of the adventures of thief-taker Simon Westow . Excellent historical mystery read!!
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The Hocus Girl  is a fantastic historical thriller. It is fast paced and well written. The characters are well developed and the storyline is entertaining.
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Book 2 in the Simon Westow mysteries and as with first book The Hanging Psalm it's a much grittier, darker affair than previous series. This time Simon is on the hunt for a spy, who has been instrumental in the incarceration of his friend. A couple of other jobs come up for Simon which inextricably link to this imprisonment. It's up to Simon and assistant Jane to figure out what on earth is going on. 

On of the things I enjoyed most about this book is finding out much more on Jane, her background and reasons for self harm. She's not an obvious heroine but there's something about her that draws you. She has a lot of prominence this time around as she hunts for a woman hell bent of robbing her of everything she's worked for. And I loved how this book ended for her (not her full story though I'm sure)

It's a tense thriller and moves at a cracking pace. Hard to believe it takes place only over a few days, there's so much action. Another great read
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Chris Nickson's appealing fictional explorations of Leeds, his beloved home city in West Yorkshire, include mystery titles set in the late 18th century (the Richard Nottingham series), the late 19th century (the DI Tom Harper series), and most recently, the 1820s in a new series featuring Simon Westow, a successful thief-taker. The Hocus Girl is the second book starring Simon and his young assistant Jane, with Simon's spirited and virtually fearless wife taking a more active role in the action this time. While Simon is occupied with trying to clear the name of his friend and benefactor Davey Ashton, accused and jailed for sedition, Jane takes the lead in recovering a watch and ring for another client, a factory owner who was  "hocussed" a factory owner when a pickup drugged his drink and took his property. Jane is horrified to discover that the thief somehow knows Jane's well-kept secrets and may be a threat to the one person in all of Leeds whom Jane trusts and regards with affection. Supporting the fast-paced, exciting plot are accurate period details reflecting the great social and technological changes England underwent in the early 19th century and drawing readers wholly into Simon's world. Note: The publisher supplied an advance reading copy via Net Galley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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1822 Leeds. Two years have passed and when Davey Ashton is arrested on charges of sedition, Simon Westow thief-taker knows he will do everything in his power to get Davey released. As payment of a life-long debt.
But other people acquire his services. One is Swedish timber merchant George Ericsson, who has been robbed - hocussed by a young woman. What is the connection of this woman to Simon's assistant Jane. How true are the rumours of a government spy in Leeds and the surrounding areas.
Are any of these events linked.
A very enjoyable and interesting well-written story, the writer easily makes the characters come alive as you read their stories.
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Leeds, in the North of England is the setting for ‘The Hocus Girl’. It’s the year 1822 and Simon Westow, Thief Taker, is about to face more danger than usual when he sets himself the task of trying to free his friend Davey Ashton. Davey has been arrested on a charge of sedition and thrown into a dark and dank cell beneath Moot Hall. There are rumours that there’s a government spy in town who’s responsible for many men being arrested across West Yorkshire on the same charges as Davey, but whether those charges have any substance is another matter.

Another job that will take up much of Simon’s time in his role of Thief Taker, is a plea for help from Swedish timber merchant George Ericsson, who, whilst taking advantage of the fact that his wife was staying out in the country, thought he’d enjoy his freedom with another woman, but she ‘hocussed’ him (spiked his drink) and stole a very valuable ring and watch. Together with his assistant Jane, Simon must find the thief and return these valuable items before Ericsson’s wife discovers that they’re missing and start asking her husband some very awkward questions.

Simon and Jane make a formidable team, but although Jane lives with Simon and his wife and children, he knows no more about her than he did 2 years ago. She’s a real dark horse - very complex, tough, not afraid to kill if it comes to it, a loner, and has the innate ability to walk the streets of Leeds without being noticed, which makes her the ideal person for following and apprehending thieves. Remember, this was a time before any organised police forces had come into existence.

Author Chris Nickson has created a powerful, intriguing and likeable character in Simon Westow, and the same can be said for Jane, though sadly, she has many issues, one of them being self harm, and she appears less and less stable as the search for the ‘Hocus Girl’ suddenly becomes personal to her, and as the plot thickens, the action gets ever faster with danger at every corner for both Simon and Jane.

The storyline itself was tense, and soon had me immersed in it, the characters were believable, and the setting of 19th century Leeds darkest corners and alleyways, were finely drawn and full of life - and death! Another winner for Mr Nickson!

* My thanks to Severn
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It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that Britain had anything like an organised police force. The Hocus Girl is set well before that time, and even a developing community like Leeds relied largely on local Constables and The Watch – both institutions being badly paid, unsupported and mostly staffed by elderly individuals who would dodder a mile to avoid any form of trouble or confrontation. There were, however, men known as Thieftakers. The title is self-explanatory. They were men who knew how to handle themselves. They were employed privately, and were outside of the rudimentary criminal justice system.

Such a man is Simon Westow. He is paid, cash in hand, to recover stolen goods, by whatever means necessary. His home town of Leeds is changing at an alarming rate as mechanised cloth mills replace the cottage weavers, and send smoke belching into the sky and chemicals into the rivers. We first met Westow in The Hanging Psalm, and there we were also introduced to young woman called Jane. She is a reject, a loner, and she is also prone to what we now call self-harm. She is a girl of the streets, but not in a sexual way; she knows every nook, cranny, and ginnel of the city; as she shrugs herself into her shawl, she can become invisible and anonymous. Her sixth sense for recognising danger and her capacity for violence – usually via a wickedly honed knife – makes her an invaluable ally to Westow. I have spent many enjoyable hours reading the author’s books, and it is my view that Jane is the darkest and most complex character he has created. In many ways The Hocus Girl is all about her.

The 1820s were a time of great domestic upheaval in Britain. The industrial revolution was in its infancy but was already turning society on its head. The establishment was wary of challenge, and when Davey Ashton, a Leeds man with revolutionary ideas is arrested, Simon Westow – a long time friend – comes to his aid. As Ashton languishes in the filthy cell beneath Leeds Moot Hall, Westow discovers that he is treading new ground – political conspiracy and the work of an agent provocateur.
The books of Chris Nickson which are set in the nineteenth century have echoes of Blake contrasting England’s “green and pleasant land ” with the “dark satanic mills”. Yes, scholars will tell us that this is metaphor, and that the Blake’s mills were the churches and chapels of organised religion, but a more literal interpretation works, too. By the time we follow the career of Tom Harper, all the green has turned black, and the pounding of the heavy machinery is a soundtrack which only ceases on high days and holidays. Simon Westow, on the other hand, half a century or more earlier, sees a Leeds where twenty minutes walk will still find you a cottage built of stone that is still golden and unblackened by industrial soot. There are still becks and streams which run clear, uncoloured by cloth dyes and industrial sludge. Just occasionally – very occasionally – there is an old woman still working on her hand loom, determined and defiant in the face of mechanised ‘progress’.
“Up on a ridge, a large steam engine thudded, powering a hoist. A single stone chimney rose, belching out its smoke. No grass anywhere. The land seemed desolate and wasted, people by miners in pale trousers ans waistcoats, blue kerchiefs knotted at the neck. Women and children bent over heaps of coal, breaking up bog black chunks as they sorted them.

This was progress, Simon thought as he watched. It looked more like a vision of hell on earth.”
I am not sure if Nickson would have been battling with the Luddites as they fought to hold back mechanisation. He is too intelligent a writer to be unaware that the pre-industrial age may have had its golden aspects but life, for the poor man, was still nasty, brutish and short. His anger at the results of ordinary people being sucked into cities such as Leeds to be set to work tending the clattering looms and feeding the furnaces is palpable. Chris Nickson is a political writer of almost religious intensity who, paradoxically, never preaches. He lets his characters have their hour on the stage, and lets us make of it what we will. The Hocus Girl is powerful, persuasive and almost impossible to put down.
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A 5 Star review for Chris Nickson's #TheHocusGirl #NetGalley. A gritty gripping mystery of  19th century Leeds when a government spy caused havoc. "Thief-taker Simon Westow must save one of his closest friends from a grim fate at the hands of the government in this compelling historical mystery." 

Simon's friend Davey Ashton,who he owes so much to, is arrested for sedition and threatened with transportation. Simon's assistant Jane is also under attack by a girl who spiked a merchant's 
drink, stole a valuable ring and seems to know all of Jane's secrets.

Simon and Rosie and Jane as well, are threatened  by this "hocus"  girl as well as the various bodyguards and toughs sent in to  cover up the governmental crisis.

There is a great ending to the book which I  loved. Nickson's Leeds books are always impeccably researched  for period detail and  very fast paced.
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