Well I came a little bit late to this party as this is the eighth of Frances Brody’s novels set in the 1920s featuring private investigator Kate Shackleton. I’m delighted to say it didn’t matter and I thoroughly enjoyed the character without needing the background from the previous books.
In this book Kate Shackleton is on holiday. She’s travelled to Whitby to visit an old school friend Alma, a woman she hasn’t seen for some time although she has met up with her daughter Felicity who is Kate’s god-daughter. The holiday begins well with Kate co-ordinating her plans with her assistant Jim Sykes and housekeeper Mrs Sugdon staying close by. Oh for the days when everyone was on holiday together and life was so much simpler!
Sadly Kate’s visit takes her past the jeweller’s shop where her husband proposed to her, sadly he lost his life during the war and there is a moment of poignancy before Kate decides to enter the shop to buy Felicity a present. What she finds instead of a gift is a dead body. In the 1920s phones were rare so Kate is forced to leave the jeweller’s shop and raise the alarm, this action, plus her being an outsider leads her to being suspected of committing the murder. Added to that Felicity has gone missing and Alma is frantic.
This is a solid mystery novel, in a wonderful setting at one of my favourite times in recent history, a time that lends itself to secrets required to maintain respectability to others, and we all know where secrets lead, especially in crime fiction! When Kate catches up with her friend Alma she finds her living in the most peculiar of houses, a grand place which is literally disintegrating around her and the man who owns the other half of the house! She also finds out that Alma rents a space on the pier and acts as the local fortune-teller, abiding by strict regulations about hours of occupancy to keep this position while a more genuine spiritualist can be found. All of which lends itself to a varied and colourful mystery, where any violence is ‘off-page’ and yet the strong character of Kate gives the book real structure and stops it slipping into fluff.
For the most part the book is narrated by Kate herself, she is a practical woman, but a ‘real’ woman, she misses her husband but doesn’t dwell too much on her loss, she is also open it would appear to another husband, but only if the right man makes the offer, she isn’t going to accept a life that won’t make her happy. And it appears that being a private investigator does make her happy, we get the feeling that she is better able to carry out her sleuthing when she is part of the community rather than in Whitby where she is an outsider but I’d need to read the other books to be certain. Because Kate is a practical woman, and one loyal to her friends, some of which lead to mini-adventures such as tracking down Alma who is busy ‘communing with the moon’ leading the local police to wonder if Kate knows about the local smuggling of whisky that they are trying to clamp down on but at least we have a woman who will climb a steep and unfamiliar hill in the dark with no wailing for a man to come and rescue her. The remaining parts of the book are narrated by Alma with very short sections by Felicity whose entries are much darker and more mysterious tone.
A very enjoyable read which despite the title made the perfect autumnal read. I was given my copy of this book by Little Brown Books, and I reciprocate with this honest review.