12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 13 October 2010
'Medal for Murder' is the second Kate Shackleton mystery by Frances Brody, eagerly awaited and highly enjoyable! Murder mysteries always elude me - watching the detectives is more my style - but the puzzle kept me engrossed, and I was surprised by certain twists and false clues.
Now a fully fledged private investigator, with an assistant and a cherrywood filing cabinet, Kate Shackleton is hired to investigate a robbery at a pawnbrokers in Leeds. A strange coincidence leads her investigation to Harrogate, where an eccentric theatre acquaintance is also staging her first production. After the play, Kate and her friend find the body of one of the sponsors in a doorway, and a starlet from the cast goes missing. Her grandfather, a veteran of the Boer war, is sent a ransom note, and asks Kate to help find her. Involved in three apparently separate cases, Kate's inquisitive nature is aroused, but the deeper she delves, the more secrets are uncovered.
I vastly prefer 'cosy' detective mysteries to the more hardcore police procedural series out there, and the Kate Shackleton books have the added bonus of being set in 1920s Yorkshire! Kate is a thoroughly modern lady of independent means, running a business with a former policeman as her assistant, driving her own car, and flirting with Scotland Yard detectives. Although Frances Brody keeps the post-WW1 era in mind, her brave and intelligent heroine is never held back in her determination to find the truth, and even uses her 'gentle sex' and genteel appearance to her advantage. The only time in this novel that I thought Kate was perhaps being rather too daring was the romantic development towards the end, but I suspect that relationship is going to continue with the series, so maybe Kate knows best after all!
I really enjoyed the South African backstory and the guided tour around Harrogate, which Frances Brody obviously researched well, and I didn't suspect the real murderer at all. My only gripe is that I had to wait so long for the sequel!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 29 August 2011
At the end of the Great War seeking information as to what happened to her husband Gerald, posted missing, Kate Shackleton undertook to locate missing persons as a kindness to other women in situations such as herself. Although still unclear as to what happened to Gerald, Kate has now in 1922 set up as a Private Investigator and following a robbery at a pawn-shop Kate is retained by the distraught owner to advise his customers of the loss of their items and if possible to track down the culprit.
Visiting Harrogate to carry out her contractual obligation for the pawn shop owner, and taking the opportunity to see a play, Kate virtually trips over a dead body outside the theatre. Seeking another pawn shop customer Kate is approached by Captain Wolfendale who fears his granddaughter Lucy who was in the play has been kidnapped. Soon Kate is drawn into the lives of the actors.
The story is told with a series of flash backs to the turn of the century when Lucy's grandfather was a Captain during the Boer war. The descriptions of the scenes are quite harrowing, and invoke a terrible period in British history.
In 'A Medal for Murder', Frances Brody had produced a fascinating tale of deception, and murder, as she skilfully negotiates the reader through a tangle of fraud and dishonesty.
The characterisation is superb. Interestingly, one of Kate's decisions brings her into direct conflict with her trusty sidekick the ex-policeman Sykes. Whilst I could see Kate's point, I felt that the reader knew more about the character in question than did Kate, and I wondered if Kate's decision would come back to haunt her.
An excellent story well paced that keeps the reader turning pages. One of those unable-to-put down books. Highly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 3 November 2010
Feisty sleuth Kate Shackleton embarks on her second case - or, more accurately, her second, third and fourth cases, as a search for stolen property expands to include a murder mystery and a missing person enquiry. The setting is 1920s Harrogate and the local and period flavour is genetically part of the style, with no apparent special effort. The three parallel mysteries mesh and writhe together like anacondas, with more red herrings than a fisherman's basket, and if the final resolution is the merest tad forced it does not detract one whit from the enjoyment. The author uses both first and third person narration, which in less accomplished hands could be a recipe for disaster, but here it works admirably, and digressions into the Boer War (lots of research here, incidentally) serve to give an extra dimension to Kate's first person storytelling.
Frances Brody has a flair for creating distinctive characters and the story is peopled by memorable individuals who prevent the intricate plot from ever becoming mechanical. For good measure Kate is confronted by moral dilemmas - how much of what she knows should she reveal? where is the line between the law and justice? - and there is (possibly, probably) the beginning of a romance, with tantalising hints that it could progress further in forthcoming adventures.
Elmore Leonard this is not, and if you want gritty realism stay with Rebus, but if you are a fan of the classical, 'golden age' detective story and you appreciate stylish, literate writing, then this is emphatically one for you.
Frances McNeil, writing as Frances Brody, has now published six novels featuring Kate Shackleton, a private detective who lost her husband in the Great War. This is the second, published in 2010, set in Yorkshire, mainly in Leeds and Harrogate, that also features her co-investigator, ex-policeman Jim Sykes.
There are many strengths to the book, its authentic settings, historical authenticity [not least in its references to clothing], convincing dialogue and complex plotting that involves, as Kate thinks to herself ‘murder, blackmail, pregnancy, an engagement, extortion’. The book opens with Kate and Sykes being retained by a Leeds pawnbroker to track down a thief who stole pledged valuables and, if possible, to recover them.
This takes Kate to Harrogate where she has also been invited to see a performance of an adaptation of Arnold Bennett’s ‘Anna of the Five Towns’, which a friend of short standing, Meriel Jamieson, is directing. Following the play, Kate and Meriel stumble over the body of Lawrence Milner, a rich but loathed car salesman who fancies himself as the husband of Lucy Wolfendale, star of the show, despite his son’s friendship with her.
Lucy disappears and, when her grandfather, an ex-army captain who served with Milner in the Boer War, receives a ransom letter, he asks Kate to find her. This leads Kate to look into the behavior of the other actors, mostly amateur and including a Belgian couple, the Geerts, who are not alone in being slight caricatures. However, the author keeps the reader engaged even with characters who are essentially unsympathetic. Brody also interweaves two contemporaneous story lines, the search for Lucy and also what has happened to her.
Brody also shifts her story back to the events of the Boer War to explore the interactions between Milner, Wolfendale [who won the Victoria Cross but was, strangely, later put in charge of concentration camps] and the latter’s long dead batman, Sergeant Lampdon. The backdrop to these scenes reflects the horrific treatment of Boer civilians by the British.
The Harrogate investigation is led by Inspector Marcus Charles of Scotland Yard who develops an increasingly close friendship with Kate, much to her mother’s delight. Brody sets up a number of suspects, some of whom confess their guilt. Kate teases out the relationship between the pawnshop theft and the murder, and her characterillustrates the difficulties that educated women faced in society as peacetime asserted itself. That said, she is the daughter of a titled mother, Lady Elizabeth and so lives a rather protected life. Kate, Sykes and Charles offer different perspectives on whether it is ethical to interfere with the due process of law – something which had earlier almost severed the formers’ professional relationship.
British society in the early 1920s was one where women were just beginning to envisage having careers independent of marriage, but it was also one where reputation, especially of marriageable daughters, was crucially important. In general, a successful marriage and motherhood was still the aim for daughters from many middle-class families. Kate’s husband, Gerald, disappeared during the war and she has received no news of his fate. Four years after the Armistice, her life is in limbo and, although she believes he is dead, she has no certainty; her professional investigations began through her support of women in similar situations. However, she is not overwhelmed by her loss and uses her wit and femininity to gain information that would probably be lost to male investigators.
My main criticism is that the book is too long, containing too many references to the minutiae of life at the time, and its pace. Just one example ‘Meriel stood over a cast-iron frying pan of spluttering fat. I placed the basket on the chair and handed her the duck eggs. She cracked the first directly into the pan. ‘Isn’t it huge? Shall we share?’ ‘Yes. Will you scramble it?’ ‘I will. A drop of milk, I think. Will you pour?’ I retrieved the milk and poured a drop into the pan, listening to it sizzle as Meriel stirred.’ Otherwise this is a very entertaining mystery, even if Kate does not do a great deal of sleuthing, 9/10.
on 30 January 2014
If Kate Shackleton was a man she would be a gentleman detective. She is a well-healed (titled mother) 1st WW war-widow (husband missing presumed dead). The story is set in the early 1930's. Kate and her Sykes her taciturn employee (ex-police) are investigating a theft from a pawn shop in Leeds. One thing leads to another and when Kate travels to Harrogate to attend the performance of a play directed by an acquaintence of her's her personal life and crime investigatory life converge in the same street and even in the same house. A fortuitous coincidence.
This formerly genteel residence is divided into flats and each of its residents has a place to play in the developing tale of theft, blackmail, 'kidnap', murder and suicide. The sins of the past, not so distant Boer War, haunt the characters. Kate breezes through it all enquiring and detecting and getting friendly with the real detective, eligible 40 yr old widower, Marcus Charles, who is tasked by Scotland Yard to investigate the murder.
An entertaining story which is a quick and easy read.