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Monday 4 December 2017

‘Death in the Stars’ by Frances Brody

Published by Piatkus,
5 October 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-349-41431-7 (PBO)

1927 is the year of a total eclipse of the sun, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and anticipation is running at fever pitch. Kate Shackleton is surprised when Selina Fellini, a popular singing star, approaches her with a request that Kate should hire an aeroplane and pilots to transport Selina to watch the eclipse at Giggleswick school, an elite boys’ school, and she wishes Kate to accompany her. Giggleswick has been designated one of the prime spots to view the eclipse and has been chosen by the Astronomer Royal as the place where he will set up his viewing station to record the event.

Kate has had many strange requests for her assistance since she started work as a private investigator but this one makes her feel especially uneasy. Why should Selina go to such expense to commission Kate to hire a plane and why does she want Kate to go with her? Kate’s instinct tells her that Selina has an ulterior motive for wanting her company, and some hints that Selina drops confirms this.

Kate hires the plane and accompanies Selina and her friend, comedian Billy Moffatt, to Giggleswick. All goes well during the eclipse, including the clouds parting at just the right time, to the disgust of Billy, who bases his act on jokes about failure and disappointment. After the eclipse, Billy wanders off and cannot be found when it is time for the plane to leave. Eventually he is discovered, in a coma and dying, next to the school chapel.

Kate is still dazed by the experience of the eclipse, lack of sleep and her vigil at Billy’s bedside until he died, but she is determined to discover what happened to him and why Selina had required her company on the trip. With the help of her two trusted assistants, Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden, Kate realises that two other performers at the theatre had died in the past year. Both deaths were ruled as accidental by the Coroner, but Kate is determined to reinvestigate. She feels that it is too great a coincidence that all three dead men were part of the theatre company and all close friends of Selina.

Kate and her associates find several possible suspects, all of whom are friends of Selina, many of whom have been close to her since her childhood. Foremost amongst them is Selina’s husband, Jarrod, who returned from the war disfigured and traumatised and suffers from extreme and violent mood swings.

As Kate investigates, she encounters her sometimes foe and occasional ally, Detective Inspector Wallis, but in the end, it is not the police who solve the crimes but Kate with the aid of her most unusual witness ever, a ventriloquist’s dummy.

Death in the Stars is the ninth in the series featuring Kate Shackleton. It maintains the excellent standard of all the Kate Shackleton novels, with a clever plot, delightful characters and evocative descriptions of England in the 1920s. A thoroughly enjoyable read and definitely recommended.
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.  Eight 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, the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her latest book Strangers and Angels published 28 November 2017 is set in Victorian England.  Also published in 2017 is her fourth novel in her scene of Crimes series Karma and the Singing Frogs.  
To to read a review of Karma and the Singing Frogs, click on the title

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