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by Frances Brody
Minotaur, February 2017
372 pages
ISBN: 1250098823

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Oh, to be in England in April! If you can't manage a trip across the pond, Frances Brody's latest Kate Shackleton mystery, which opens in April 1916 and is set in the Yorkshire dales, is a nice second best.

Beginning with a prologue detailing the murderous events of an April night in a small village, A DEATH IN THE DALES is a classic cozy. Ten years after the events of the prologue, Kate Shackleton and her niece Harriet plan a two-week retreat for both of them to rest and recuperate from recent events: Kate's detective work and Harriet's brush with death brought on by a bout of diphtheria. Kate's love interest Lucian has offered them the use of his recently deceased aunt's house in the village of Langcliffe, and it seems like the perfect getaway with its pretty garden, fresh air, and nearby possible friends for Harriet. However, almost as soon as they arrive, a Mr. Wigglesworth presents Kate with a ten-year-old mystery that involved Lucian's aunt Freda, and before she knows it, Kate is caught up in investigating that as well as a present-day suspicious death and a case of lost love letters and blackmail. She and Harriet quickly discover that dark undercurrents swirl beneath the surface of the idyllic village life, and Kate must confront some ugly truths as well as some hard personal choices before everything gets tied up at the end.

As usual, Brody sets a deceptively gentle pace, allowing her story to unfold naturally and realistically but always tugging forward. It doesn't take long for the quiet pace to get the pages turning quickly as the plot becomes more complicated, but Brody makes it easy to keep up as she holds the reader's interest. Part of the interest arises, of course, from the characters, and Brody does a nice job of portraying even minor players and making them real enough that they and their actions are believable. Kate is the most well-developed character, and her likeableness and spunk do much to enhance the novel, as does the convincing portrayal of the times. This is England between the wars, when petrol is rationed, strikes affect railway travel, and men still show both physical and psychological wounds from WWI. Brody sketches in enough details of the era for realism, but she does it with a light hand.

All in all, A DEATH IN THE DALES works nicely as a stand-alone novel but is particularly enjoyable for those who follow Kate and want to know more about her. It also includes clever, nuanced references to other English favorites—most overtly The Secret Garden—which makes it a nice choice for any Anglophile looking for a satisfyingly complicated puzzle set in a delightful, yet intriguing, corner of England.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, March 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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