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Saturday 11 May 2024

‘Six Motives for Murder’ by Frances Brody

Published by Piatkus,
9 May 2024.
ISBN: 978-0-349-43199-4

It is 1969 and Nell Lewis has settled into her new job as governor of Her Majesty’s Prison Brackerley in Yorkshire. Brackerley is an Open Prison whose purpose is to provide the women prisoners with the skills and self-esteem that will enable them to successfully transition into life outside prison when they are released. Nell prefers the term residents to prisoners and one of the initiatives that she has encouraged is teaching the residents catering skills under the auspices of Training Officer Kitteringham, popularly known as Kit.

Nell is pleased when the prison is invited to provide the catering for the wedding of Amanda Chapin, the daughter of the largest landowner in the area, Lancelot Chapin. Amanda is engaged to Fred Harding, the son of the late governor of the prison, Nell’s predecessor, so both bride and groom are known to the village, although they now live in London. Lancelot Chapin is the nearest thing to a lord of the manor that the village possesses and the reception after the wedding will be held in the grounds of his manor house. However, Chapin is far from popular, mainly because he plans to sell the wildflower meadows that the villagers love and believe is common land, stolen by Chapin’s ancestors. There are rumours that this simmering resentment has already turned violent and that Chapin’s young second wife, Barbara, was lamed by a riding accident caused by a trap that had been intended for her husband. As well as this there is the complex relationship between the Chapin family and their neighbours, Gloria and Norman Thwaite. Gloria used to look after Amanda because her own mother was unwell and she is still very close to the family, especially to Amanda, who calls her aunt and is going to wear Gloria’s wedding dress for the ceremony.

Although Nell is getting a firm grip on life at HMP Brackerley there are many undercurrents in the village of Brackerley that she is only vaguely aware of, but which make her uneasy. As she walks around the village she makes the acquaintance of Susan, who had at one time been a nurse at the Maternity Home but now is a resident in the local Home for the Elderly. Both Homes are under the control of a resident doctor, Dr Block. Susan and two of her friends ask for Nell’s help with certain investigations they wish to make. Nell is very aware of the sensitivity of her position as Governor and is unwilling to become too deeply involved but she does try to help the friends with certain enquiries that are in the public domain.

Nell and Kit select three residents to cater the wedding, which could be a good stepping stone towards getting the women parole. Diane is the mother of two young children that she misses horribly; she had been used by manipulative people to store illegal goods and was sentenced more heavily than anticipated because the judge at her trial used her to set an example to others. Cherry is a young fashion designer who had been persuaded by a boyfriend to smuggle illegal drugs in order to fund her fashion business. Linda was a young student who, as a reflex action, stabbed a man who had been sexually abusing her for many years; unfortunately, Linda had been too traumatised to explain her reason and had been found guilty of murder. Diane and Cherry are happy to be catering for the wedding, especially Cherry, who is also involved in altering the bride’s wedding dress, but Linda begs to be excused, afraid that somebody will recognise her, and her photo will be in the newspaper. Nell refuses Linda’s request to withdraw, believing that the girl is overly sensitive and it will be good for her to participate. However, Nell could not foresee that, during the reception, Lancelot Chapin will be stabbed to death and the person who discovers him will be one of her residents.

When this occurs, Nell must do everything she can to assist the police to investigate this brutal murder while, at the same time, protecting the innocent, especially her residents who are particularly vulnerable to suspicion. Fortunately, she is on good terms with the local police and can work in conjunction with them to discover which of the secrets surrounding Lancelot Chapin led to his murder.

Six Motives For Murder is the second book in the series featuring Nell Lewis and the staff and residents of Brackerley Prison. It is a superb, multi-viewpoint novel with a complex, beautifully balanced plot and excellent characterisation. Nell is an engaging central protagonist, and the story contains many other likeable characters. The ambience, attitudes, and prejudices of the late 1960s background are skilfully depicted and are completely convincing, as are the fashion and lifestyle of that time. Six Motives For Murder is a page turner that 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
Death and the Dancing Snowman 

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