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

Image result for death in the stars frances brody

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  https://northernreader.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/everyone-brave-i…-by-chris-cleave/ ‎  It is a really good read!

 

A Murder Mystery and Hurrah for the Tyneside!

A third post in three days! It can’t last, I hear you say. You may be right; I’ve got a busy few days coming up so I may not have much time. So here are  two books – both by the same author, so something to keep you busy. Oh, apart from a quick mention of the published account of George VI’s speech therapist.

This book, which I’ve just started reading, is the account written by Logue’s grandson of the records he has pieced together. Or rather it is written by a combination of Mark Logue and Peter Conrad. It seems very interesting so far, and well written. Daughter has seen the film twice so far (once with a mystified Italian) and intends to see it again tomorrow. She says “Hurrah for the Tynside Cinema!”.

where she says the staff are very friendly. If only they had their own car park…

Anyway, two murders (at least). I cannot remember if I’ve mentioned her books before but I have recently enjoyed two books by Frances Brody. She also writes as Frances McNeil, but it is as Brody she has written Dying in the Wool

Dying in the Wool (Kate Shackleton Crime Story)

and A Medal for Murder.

A Medal For Murder: A Kate Shackleton Mystery

Both books are Kate Shackleton mysteries, centred on a woman whose doctor husband has gone missing in the recent First World War. She has money, time and the ability to investigate mysteries, and stumble across others. The second book takes place against the background of amateur dramatics, and is an interesting  examination of the times with the cars, jobs and expectations for women debated. It is not a feminist work in many ways, but it does involve interesting comments on what happens to women who do not simply marry and live happily ever after. I must confess to getting a bit confused about the main male characters, and I’m not sure that the main character, Kate, is strong enough to carry the novel. Her mother is a great character, however, and there are some well written scenes. This book is fine if you want something a little more complicated than Christie and a little more challenging than Daisy Darymple. I did enjoy it far more than M C Beaton’s (Agatha Raisin) Edwardian offering, and it is essentially a good read. If female detectives of the earlyish twentieth century are of interest, this is a good choice.