A MURDER mystery that dates back half a century, but is rooted in Nazi-occupied Europe, is at the centre of this intriguing thriller from Bradford writer Alan Hall.

Saltaire Blonde is a meaty page-turner with vividly drawn characters, each drawn in some way to an unsolved murder. At the heart of the story is an enigmatic blonde, Marta, the only person who may ever know the truth about what happened.

The murder and the characters are fictional, but there is plenty of local reference in Alan’s impressive novel, which is largely set in Saltaire and Bradford.

After the break-up of a relationship, Alison Booth leaves London for a new life in Yorkshire. At first she’s bored and lonely, but then she meets Marta, a neighbour in Saltaire.

Marta came to England with her Ukrainian father, Petro, as a refugee after the Second World War. Alison becomes fascinated by Marta and her past, especially when she learns that Petro was murdered near Hirst Lock d in 1969 and the case has never been solved.

More details of the murder come to life from Gerald, a retired police officer, who worked on the case. Alison learns that Petro was employed by the Nazis during the war, and was believed by some to be a war criminal.

But, while he was forced to work for the Nazis in Poland, it turns out Petro helped a group of concentration camp inmates to escape in early 1945.

Was he murdered by a Polish nationalist as an act of revenge for working for the Nazis?And was Petro’s killer his own son-in-law? Alison, along with friends Gerald and Fred, who have their own reasons for also being intrigued with Marta, try to unravel the truth.

Meanwhile, the enigmatic Marta - the eponymous ‘Saltaire Blonde’ - seems to know much more than she is ever going to reveal.

Most of the story takes place between 2015-2016 in Saltaire, Bradford and Leeds, and there are also flashbacks to Saltaire in 1969, the time of the murder, and to Poland and Germany in 1944-5, when Petro and his infant daughter made their way out of war-ravaged Europe to try and find a new life in England.

“The book has a strong sense of place,” says Alan, who is also the author of The Story of Bradford and Bradford in 100 Dates. “Most of the locations are authentic. West Yorkshire did have an influx of displaced people from Poland, Ukraine and other European countries after the war, and few questions were asked at that time about what the newcomers had done during the conflict. Many refugees, like Petro, found employment in the textile industry.”

Adds Alan: “Although the murder is fiction, references are made to real-life murders in the area, notably those carried out by Peter Sutcliffe and the murder, in 1977, of Mary Gregson in Saltaire, a crime which remained unsolved for many years.

“As well as being a straightforward murder-mystery, the story also explores subsidiary themes. An important theme is friendship. Alison, the principal character in the book, finds true friendship from an unusual source; Marta the now elderly step-daughter of the murdered man. She is the enigmatic Saltaire Blonde of the title.

“The book also looks at friendship and loyalty, issues of exile and the aftermath of atrocities perpetrated during the Second World War in eastern Europe.”

Emma Clayton

* CONAN Doyle For The Defence (Profile Books, £16.99) by New York Times writer Margalit Fox is the strange case of the murder of a wealthy woman in Glasgow and the subsequent prosecution, conviction and imprisonment of German Jew Oscar Slater; followed by Arthur Conan Doyle's attempts to prove Slater's innocence. This volume is split into four books, detailing the murder and police investigation, social context of the case, the trial and Conan Doyle's investigation. A must for Sherlock Holmes fans, and anyone with an interest in history, crime writing - or just the righting of injustice. Ryan Ward