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Saturday 13 December 2014
‘Death of an Avid Reader’ by Frances Brody
Published by Piatkus,
2 October 2014.
Lady private detectives are thin on the ground here in the 21st century; in the 1920s they were almost unheard of, especially outside London. But crime, mystery and fiction know neither temporal nor geographical boundaries, and Kate Shackleton, Frances Brody’s former VAD nurse turned private eye, is never short of cases to investigate.
Death of an Avid Reader is based largely around the Leeds Library, a real place which in 2014 is still very much alive, and one of the few surviving independent subscription libraries in the UK. The story opens, however, with a trip to London, where Kate has been summoned by an aristocratic lady with a secret past.
Kate’s quest to find the lady’s long-lost daughter intersects with her attempt to help quash rumours of a ghost at the Library – but the discovery of the murdered body of a well-respected member of the institution soon takes precedence, especially when the police light upon a suspect who Kate is convinced is innocent.
Fans of the series will be familiar with the background and supporting cast: Sykes, Kate’s ex-policeman sidekick; Mrs Sugden her outspoken housekeeper; Sookie the cat; the Jowett motor car. All are present and correct, along with a well-drawn 1920s Leeds which is still recognizable ninety years later. Kate herself is fiercely independent, determined, astute and neither squeamish nor lacking in courage.
It would be easy to classify this series as cosy crime, but it doesn’t fit neatly into that category. The language fits the period; women didn’t swear, and men watched their tongues in female company. But Brody describes bodies and injuries in sufficient matter-of-fact detail; and she doesn’t draw back from less savoury topics such as incest, adultery and violent death.
In Death of an Avid Reader, the plotlines ultimately weave together neatly, but with more than a few intriguing tangles along the way. And as a bonus, a cute Capuchin monkey makes a guest appearance!
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Frances Brody is a pseudonym of Frances McNeil who lives in Leeds where she was born and grew up. She worked in the USA as a secretary in Washington DC and New York. Frances studied at Ruskin College, Oxford and read English Literature and History at York University.Starting her writing life in radio, she has written scripts for television and theatre. Frances turned to crime for her first novel, Dying in the Wool, set on the outskirts of Bradford, Yorkshire in the 1920s. Four further books have followed featuring Kate Shackleton,
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.