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Sunday 6 December 2015

‘A Death in the Dales’ by Frances Brody

Published by Piatkus,
1 October 2015.
ISBN: 978-0-349-40656-5

Kate Shackleton was widowed in the 1914-1918 war. After the war she spent some years trying to discover if her doctor husband was really dead or missing, and, if he was dead, to find out the circumstances of his death. Eight years later she has come to terms with her loss and uses the skills she developed when searching for the truth about her husband to become a Private Investigator. Although she specialises in finding missing people, she has been involved with many cases of murder. However, in 1926, Kate is taking a fortnight's holiday in a remote Yorkshire village. She has two reasons for this: to aid the recovery of her niece, Harriet, who has just come out of hospital, having survived diphtheria; and to spend more time with Dr Lucian Simonson and discover whether they are well enough suited to marry. The cottage that Kate and Harriet are staying in belongs to Lucian, who inherited it from the aunt who brought him up.

Hopes of a peaceful holiday are swiftly put to flight. Within minutes of arriving at the cottage Kate is approached by Bradley Wigglesworth, the local apothecary and a close friend of Lucian's late aunt, Freda Simonson. Ten years ago, in the middle of the war, Freda had witnessed the murder of a local publican. She knew that the young Irishman who was arrested and tried for the crime was innocent, but her testimony was disregarded. She mourned the young man's unjust execution for the rest of her life and, when she heard about Kate's profession, had hoped to meet her and ask her to discover the truth. Unfortunately, she died before this happened. Mr Wigglesworth gives Kate all the documents Freda had collected about the case and, although Kate knows that her stirring up the past will cause ill-feeling in the village, she feels a need to continue the work of a woman she never met and yet feels drawn to.

Soon this decade old mystery is supplemented by three very current problems: the disappearance of a young boy who had been sent to work at one of the hill farms; the mysterious death of another farmer; and a request for Kate to act as an intermediary in a potential blackmail case. Despite Harriet's excellent efforts to help with the investigations, Kate is very grateful when her assistant, Sykes, and her housekeeper, Mrs Sugden, arrive to supply their professional aid.

A Death in the Dales is the eighth Kate Shackleton mystery and it is a series that gets stronger all the time. The central characters are well drawn and appealing, and the opportunity for Harriet to share more of the action is a great addition. The strands of the plots are woven together with skill and make a convincing conclusion. The historical background is beautifully portrayed, without becoming obtrusive, and is intrinsic in informing the characters and events of the time.

A Death in the Dales is a thoroughly enjoyable book and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Reviewer: Carol Westron
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.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.

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