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Monday 17 October 2022

‘A Mansion for Murder’ by Frances Brody

Published by Piatkus,
20 October 2022.
ISBN: 978-0-349-43197-0 (PB)

The year is 1930 and it is ten years since Kate Shackleton discovered a new direction for her life and became a Private Investigator. This had been an unusual career choice for a lady of Kate’s social standing, but she drifted into it after Gerald, her doctor husband, was reported Missing in Action in the First World War. Kate discovered within herself a deep-rooted need to find out what had happened to Gerald, still nurturing the slender hope that he might still be alive. Her quest enabled her to develop skills and contacts that enhanced her natural instincts as an investigator. These new skills, as well as her empathy and kindness, mixed with a good amount of common-sense, helped her to assist many other people who were searching for the truth about missing loved ones.

As time moved on, Kate took on other cases, and became a professional Private Investigator, leading a small team of investigators with a selection of diverse skills. Her chief assistant is Jim Sykes, an ex-policeman, who is proficient at spotting shoplifting and fraud, and has accumulated a large number of people he can turn to for information. Kate’s housekeeper, Mrs Sugden, had started out as a domestic help but soon voiced her determination to help with Kate’s investigations and has many useful skills, including the ability to fit in with people that feel uncomfortable with Kate or Jim Sykes.

During the course of the decade, Kate has had the confirmation she dreaded and now knows that her husband died in an explosion in the trenches. This has given her closure and has made her even more grateful for her absorbing profession and the friends who have become like a second family.

At the start of A Mansion for Murder, Kate receives an intriguing letter from a stranger, Ronnie Cresswell, and decides to keep the appointment he requests at the lodge house of the abandoned mansion, Milner Field. Unfortunately, Kate arrives at the lodge just before news comes that Ronnie is dead, drowned in the reservoir that runs under Salts Mill, the mill that provides employment for the village of Saltaire. Ronnie’s distraught mother is convinced that her son is a victim of the curse on Milner Field. She immediately takes her young daughter and leaves the lodge and moves in with her Uncle Nick, abandoning her job of setting in order the mansion, which is to be sold at auction. There is a grim history of death and loss in the Milner Field mansion, which has fed into the legend of a curse, and soon forensic evidence indicates that Ronnie’s death was not an accident. Nobody that Kate questions seems to know why Ronnie wished to talk to her and she wonders if it was what he wished to disclose that led to his death.

Mr Whittaker, the mill owner, employs Kate’s investigative team to take on several tasks for him, Jim Sykes is to use his skills to discover who is responsible for the industrial espionage that has provided a competitor with information that enables them to undercut Salts Mill’s tender for a major contract. Mrs Sugden will take over Ronnie’s mother’s duties, preparing the mansion for auction, and Kate will coordinate the team. Kate and Mrs Sugden move into the ground floor of the mansion and soon it becomes clear that something strange and sinister is going on, although they are sure the threatening incidents are man-made rather than because of a supernatural force.

Kate does not intend to get involved with the investigation into Ronnie’s death, but she finds herself drawn into supporting those who are bereaved and are left desolate by the loss of Ronnie, who had been a remarkably kind, gifted and decent young man. These include Pamela Whittaker, Ronnie’s girlfriend and the mill owner’s daughter, who had been determined to marry Ronnie despite the opposition of both their families, and Ronnie’s little sister, Nancy. The information Kate gathers as she talks to Ronnie’s family and friends leads her towards the truth about Ronnie’s death but she has to act swiftly, with the help of the inhabitants of Saltaire, if she is to succeed in preventing a further, hideous tragedy overwhelming Ronnie’s family.

A Mansion for Murder is the thirteenth book in the series featuring Kate Shackleton. It is a superb series that gets better all the time. As well as Kate’s First-Person narrative, there are Third Person contributions in the viewpoints of Jim Sykes and also of Nick, who has lived in the village of Saltaire all his long life. Kate is an engaging protagonist, intelligent, dedicated and warm-hearted, and part of a delightful community of mutually supportive friends. The plot is complex and well-constructed, and the historical details are authentic and interesting. A Mansion for Murder is a page turner, which I thoroughly 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 author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 6 further mysteries. 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 click on the title

1 comment:

  1. Carol, Thanks for reviewing..
    Lizzie, your October edition - another bumper crop!