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Sunday 3 November 2019

‘The Body on the Train’ by Frances Brody

Published by Piatkus,
17 October 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-349-42306-7 (PB)

The year is 1929 and Kate Shackleton’s work as a Private Investigator has changed and progressed. In the early days of Kate’s career, just after the First World War, her doctor husband was Missing in Action, and she used the skills she had developed in her attempts to discover his fate and to help other people trace their loved ones. This has developed, and now Kate and her assistants are often involved in cases of national importance.

The body of a man, shot in the stomach and with all traces of his identity removed, is discovered in a truck of one of the trains used to transport rhubarb from Yorkshire to London. Scotland Yard makes little progress in solving the case and so they ask Kate to investigate, hoping that her local connections will prove informative. The Scotland Yard detective in charge of the case, Commander Woodhead, appears to believe that the dead man was a Russian revolutionary who had come to Britain to encourage the Yorkshire miners and railway workers to attempt further militant action following the defeat of the General Strike. Because the authorities are convinced that this is a political crime, they have put an embargo on reporting it, and this has resulted in the victim remaining unidentified.

Kate realises that the man’s mysterious death had occurred on the same night as another murder, that of Mrs Farrar, an elderly woman who kept a small corner shop in Thorpefield, a village two miles away from the railway station where the rhubarb was loaded. Mrs Farrar’s young lodger, Stephen Walmsley, has been arrested for the murder of his landlady and Scotland Yard have made no connection between the two crimes. However, Kate and her assistants, Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden, cannot accept that two murders in quiet countryside on the same night can be a coincidence.

Kate has an old friend whose husband owns a large house in Thorpefield and she asks if they will allow her to visit them, using the excuse that she wishes to write an article and take photographs about the area. Benjamin and Gertrude Brockman willingly agree to Kate’s request. They are mine and mill owners, who are struggling to keep their employees in line, and Kate notes that they do not appear to be as affluent as they once were. However, a new mine is being developed on the site that had recently housed a local Children’s Home, and Gertrude, Benjamin and their neighbour, Eliot Dell, claim that this will make them and their investors wealthy again, as well as improving employment in the area.

Although Benjamin and Gertrude assure Kate that Stephen Walmsley is guilty of murder, all of his friends in the village and his fellow performers in the Temperance Band believe in his innocence, and, having visited Stephen in prison, Kate agrees with them. Kate’s investigative team is very efficient, and Sykes and Mrs Sugden not only discover the identity of the dead man but establish a connection between the two murders. In the meantime, Kate establishes a link between the new mine and the demolished children’s home. She is increasingly concerned that an innocent man will be executed for murder and is also worried about the fate of the children from the disbanded Home. She begins to fear that Benjamin Brockman and his sinister butler, Raynor, are involved in a criminal conspiracy, and soon has reason to fear for her own life.

The Body on the Train is the eleventh in the series featuring Kate Shackleton, but it works well as a stand-alone book. I found this book excellent. The plot is intriguing and the historical detail convincing, but above all the characterisation is superb. Kate is one of the most engaging protagonists in modern historical fiction, courageous but kind, and possessing remarkable integrity and empathy. The supporting characters are equally well drawn and grow with each book. Indeed, this is a series that goes from strength to strength in every way. The Body on the Train is a page-turner and a book that I would wholeheartedly recommend.
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. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.
To read a review of Carol latest book
Strangers and Angels click on the title.

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