Death of an Avid Reader

9780349400570As we near the publication date of our next full edition of Shiny New Books, you might reasonably fear that the title of this post referred to me. But no! It is in fact the most recent addition to the series of crime novels by Frances Brody featuring her 1920s lady detective, Kate Shackleton. I confess I just love this sort of reproduction vintage crime. I’m a fan of the traditional cozy whodunnit, and ready to cheer when – for example – Kate’s stalwart housekeeper, Mrs Sugden, brings in the tea and hot buttered muffins as Kate sheds her coat and muffler after a long day of tough sleuthing out in foggy Leeds. Bring on the comforting period detail! This novel provided me with a weekend’s perfect relaxation.

So it’s autumn 1925 and Kate has received a letter regarding a new private investigation. The venerable Lady Coulton charges her with finding the daughter she gave up for adoption many years ago. With only an old photo and a last-known address to guide her, Kate sets to work with her trusty ex-policeman assistant, Jim Sykes. But it isn’t very long before her attention is distracted, first by the discovery of a Capuchin monkey in the back of her car, property of the local organ-grinder who seems to have gone missing (Mrs Sugden is disapproving but scarcely ruffled, you’ll be glad to know, by a monkey as a house guest), and then by a distinctly odd story of ghosts in her local library. As a member of the board, she agrees to witness an exorcism in order to settle the fragile nerves of the ladies who work there. But instead the evening ends with the discovery of a real body, that of Dr Horatio Potter, a learned local man who is deeply involved with the library’s business. And lying not far from him, in a state of collapse, is the organ-grinder.

Kate finds herself dragged into this case in order to prevent the crime from being thoughtlessly attributed to a poor old sick man. But when it seems that the missing daughter she seeks might well have been a former employee at the library, and that the library is riven with quarrels over a proposed move into new buildings, her cases merge and become more complicated.

There’s a lot going on in this novel and the plotting is masterful. There are plenty of revelations and twists and turns, a colourful cast of characters and the atmosphere of 1920s Leeds is beautifully recreated. I thought this was consistently well-written and Kate Shackleton is a fine creation. Left widowed by the war but far from helpless, she puts her VAD nursing skills to good use along with her able intelligence. She never oversteps the boundaries of what a lady of her class could do in that era, but you do feel that she actually works her puzzles out, rather than relying on some stroke of luck or anachronistic act of derring-do. She’s often been compared to Jacqueline Winspeare’s Maisie Dobbs, and there is a circumstancial resemblance to her, but there’s more detecting going on in these books, less historical detail. I don’t mind that as I can sometimes get a bit bogged down with Maisie. And on an entirely superficial note, the covers are fab. If you like your cosy crime intelligent but restful, then I’d warmly recommend her.

As for this avid reader, I am aware of being horribly behind yet again in my blog reading. I’ve kept all your posts on my feed reader and hope to start getting to them very soon. Many apologies – hopefully the new edition of SNB will more than make up for my absence!




21 thoughts on “Death of an Avid Reader

  1. I’ve often been attracted by these period cozies – trouble is, there’s so many around that I’ve not been sure what to try, and I did wonder if they’d get bogged down in the period detail as you imply that the Maise Dobbs books do. But this one sounds irresistible – the cover alone makes it look worth reading!!

  2. You introduced me to this series and I’ve loved them all. I had missed the publication of this one but will be canvasing the library for a copy immediately!

    • It’s only just out, Alex! I am SO glad that you like this series. I’m really keen on them, too. And thank you for the recommendation of Eva Dolan (I’m pretty sure it was you). I read Long Way Home on the weekend and couldn’t put it down!

  3. “…You might reasonably fear that the title of this post referred to me.” On first glance I feared exactly that. I am relieved this was not the case and look forward to the next SNB.

  4. Oh love the look of this one 🙂 great cover too. I do like cosy, vintage style murder mystery. I read another vintage mystery with a monkey in it by Miles Franklin but can’t remember the title. 🙂

  5. I have the first book in this series on my pile of books to read asap. I’m glad the series continues to be good and entertaining and delightful. I think I am going to enjoy these! I love period mysteries too 🙂 Thanks for a lovely review, Victoria.

    • I would love to know what you think, Susan! Do let me know when you read that first one. I think it’s a really good series and am delighted that the author’s getting better as she gets further in!

  6. I have eyed these books more than once–now that I know they are as good as they look I will be checking them out more closely. It’s always good to have something like this in reserve–I like these kinds of cozies, too!

  7. Pingback: Best Books of 2014 | Tales from the Reading Room

  8. Pingback: More Cosy Crime | Tales from the Reading Room

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