Death in the Stars – A Kate Shackleton Mystery by Frances Brody. Murder and mystery onstage?

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A tenth book in the series, and a successful novel in its own right, this latest mystery for the private detective Kate Shackleton brings in some new ideas and some new challenges. One of the popular wave of women detectives in the interwar period depicted in long series, this is one of the more serious books which depend on careful sleuthing rather than amusing adventures. While being undoubtedly well written, this is a rather earnest series of novels which feature a war widow who has constructed a new life as a detective for hire. She also has an interesting background as she was adopted into the family of a well off senior policeman and was brought up in very comfortable circumstances, with impressive social links, but her birth family was far more humble. These issues have been worked through in earlier books in the series, as well as her acceptance that her husband has died in the First World War. She has a helpful housekeeper Mrs Sugden and an employee, Jim Sykes, who have gained experience in enquiries, but it is Kate that takes the lead in discovering the true situation.

This book is set in 1927, when an eclipse is promised and many people are eager to witness it. Kate is approached by Selina Fellini, a famous singer and music hall star, to accompany her and her fellow star Billy Moffatt to a boys’ school to witness the solar eclipse in the company of many experts. Kate is intrigued by the request, especially when the singer asks her to charter a plane, which is a fascinating idea in that even at this point it was possible to bypass road and rail traffic. Billy is discovered unconscious and Kate promises to accompany him to hospital. As murder mysteries go, this is a studied and realistic death, rather a poisoning or quick death as mostly preferred by the traditional detective writer. As other mysterious deaths emerge, the stage is literally set for confusion and danger, as no one is above suspicion. Some of the characters still bear the mental scars of the recent war, and the waning popularity of music hall acts in the face of films affects how ambitious the acts involved can be at this point. To a certain extent it is not so much solving the mystery as observing the characters and settings which Brody handles confidently and well.

This is to an extent a book for fans of the series, but enough background emerges that I believe it would work as a standalone novel. It is not as amusing as some books of this type, but it is an enjoyable book which maintains the reader’s interest and is backed by convincing research. Brody succeeds in creating a world which convinces and characters who sound realistic. This is quite a tense read at points, but owes more to the tradition of Golden Age mystery than modern thriller.

One of the things I like about writing this blog is that I can review whichever books I wish; not always scholarly, sometimes almost light, and certainly not always new!  This series of books seems to be a reliable best seller, and it is one that I have enjoyed over the years. I hope that you find new books and authors from this blog, as I try to include something for everyone.

I have not tried to choose my top ten books of 2017, but I do enjoy popping back to track down which books I have included. Happily I have read the book for the next book group already; “Everyone Brave is Forgiven” by Chris Cleave, and have posted about it here…-by-chris-cleave/ ‎  It is a really good read!


5 thoughts on “Death in the Stars – A Kate Shackleton Mystery by Frances Brody. Murder and mystery onstage?

    1. I prefer the Maisie Dobbs books, mainly because Winspear deals so much more thoroughly with the social issues that faced the working classes and the veterans of the First World War than Brody does. For me, her novels have more depth.

      1. Fair comment. I think it is what you are looking for in books that are essentially similar in subject matter. I would say that the Catriona McPherson books are often more funny, but possibly lighter and more difficult to believe in. I really like The Miss Fisher series by Kelly Greenwood, set in 1929 Australia, as they are fantastic and fun. I suppose my difficulty with Maisie Dobbs is that she has such bad fortune, losing people and always taking the most challenging path. Possibly Winspear is more realistic, but each Brody does present different situations in each book, such as this novel’s sadness at the decline of live acts in Music Hall. Essentially it comes down to individual preference. I just read all of the series as I find them, and find that each one has its value (and sometimes less good novels in a long series)

    2. I think that they are much less focused on the central character, what she has gone through and so forth. There are less purple passages about Kate’s situation this far into the series, except to explain why Jim and Mrs Sugden are loyal (they are interested in the work) In this book there is a lot about the decline of the Music Halls and live ‘speciality’ acts in the face of films and big shows. It comes down to personal preference, but I enjoy and find something in each series

  1. Thank you so much for responding to my question. I only discovered your blog about 6 months ago and have had a lot of fun reading your previous posts. I really enjoy the variety of books that you chose. Also, thanks to Cafe Society.

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