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review 2015-04-13 17:12
Dying in the Wool (Kate Shackleton
Dying In the Wool - Frances Brody

Kate, a still-young, well-to-do war widow has found herself doing amateur detective work here and there. An old VAD friend asks her to do so professionally. Her father has been missing for years, presumed a suicide. Kate has a tight schedule to solve a disappearance before the Braithwaite wedding. 


The first chapter of the novel does not flow and does a great deal of showing-not-telling while I was still reeling from the first person past tense. That alone was worth docking a half-star. Readers, do not let that deter you! The story will pick up pace very quickly, and while it's not on par with the later Kate Shackleton novels, it's entertaining and fun to read.

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text 2015-04-07 16:00
I started on Kate Shackleton's first adventure...

Oof. Let me tell you, the author has improved by leaps by A Medal for Murder, and bounds by Murder in the Afternoon. (Perhaps tellingly, the latter is dedicated to her assistant, Amy Sophie McNeil.) If I hadn't read those two before starting this, I might never have gone on - which would have been a shame! Here, the characters and the setting are just as well thought out, and I expect the ensuing mystery will be just as cleverly constructed, but the storytelling is amateurish, expository - the worst kind of telling-not-showing. And, were I the author, I would have thought twice about having so many references to manure in the first chapter.

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review 2015-04-07 14:39
Murder in the Afternoon (Kate Shackleton)
Murder In The Afternoon - Frances Brody

A long-lost relative shows up on Mrs Shackleton's doorstep asking for help: Her husband is missing, perhaps dead. Reluctantly, Kate is drawn into an investigation that reveals the interplay of relationships and secrets in a little country town, as well as putting her face to face with a part of her own past that she'd hoped to forget. 


While I unashamedly enjoyed the previous installment in this series, I can tell that between A Medal for Murder and Murder in the Afternoon there's been a conscious effort to improve. Character introductions and scene settings seemed more tactile. While before I wasn't ever sure a shift between narrators was necessary, here it was instrumental in distributing information. The plot is a slow reveal as secret after secret falls into place, without, once more, giving away the solution until Kate has all the information she needs. These novels are not puzzles to be solved, but stories - and I am fine with that!


Brody is a knack conjuring scenes and characters that seem tangible and memorable. That's something I find essential in a story; too often in detective novels characters fade into faceless game pieces.


I may be too generous. I often end up rating according to how much I enjoyed a story, and I enjoyed this quite a lot. I could also appreciate Kate's hesitation about Marcus. She's much too sharp and decisive to be shuffled into a position she won't enjoy, simply because it's the done thing. I can't explain it, but somehow that makes me trust Brody - to think I will continue to like Kate, and to like reading about her. We'll see. 



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review 2015-04-05 17:51
A Medal for Murder (Kate Shackleton)
A Medal for Murder - Frances Brody

Mrs Shackleton's second professional case involves tracking down a thief who robbed a pawnshop in bright daylight. The murdered man she stumbles upon outside a Harrowgate theatre seems, at first, unconnected. But that isn't the way detective novels work, is it? Kate is dragged into an investigation in which she has to choose between the truth and justice more than once. 


The writing was not flawless, nor did the novel obviously follow the formula of a classic detective novel or provide a clear puzzle for the reader, but I was entertained from start to finish. I have a fondness for the very specific genre of "1920s lady detective novels written by women" so I might be a soft touch, but I don't have to make any excuses for liking this one. I was a little thrown off by the first person narration interspersed with scenes from other points of view, especially since those extra scenes weren't entirely necessary, but once I got used to it it was not an issue at all. Besides, even if not necessary, those extra scenes were in themselves entertaining - especially the flashbacks to the Second South African War. 


I missed the first novel in the series but am well into the third now. Kate is a reasonably wealthy woman in her early thirties and childless, her husband having been lost in the war. Beyond this, I know very little about her aside from what arises from the narration. There isn't anything very spectacular about her, save for her powers of observation. This isn't a criticism. I felt comfortable slipping into her skin. She is independent, her own boss (and that of her assistant), and has a capacity for compassion without being soppy. I'm likely going to keep reading these until I run out of money or into one of my dealbreaker tropes.




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review 2015-03-21 12:55
Pardonable Lies
Pardonable Lies - Jacqueline Winspear

London, 1930. Psychologist and investigator Maisie Dobbs is hired to prove that a wartime aviator really died when his plane went down years ago, an investigation that leads her back to France for the first time since she served there as a nurse. She has to confront those memories in order to bring peace not only to her client but to herself. 


This was a pleasant, if slow-moving read - but slowness is not always a bad thing. The mystery is easy to guess, not so much from clues left behind but from the shape and thrust of the story, and each guess is confirmed one by one as Maisie patiently and diligently works to unearth proof of what really happened. Not that there weren't any surprises - there just also wasn't much of a puzzle. It didn't really bother me, since I don't read detective stories for the puzzle but for the journey. As a character, Maisie is cautious, non-judgmental, conservative and not at all flashy, which in itself is refreshing. 


There were elements that were not to my taste. Although Maisie is the protagonist, she still seems to think of herself as an apprentice to her old mentor, Maurice. She does not claim her own authority. Moreover Maisie, Maurice and presumably the author believe that there is a correct, healthy way to confront tragedy and conduct one's life: either settle down into more or less conservative life or suffer mentally. It's comforting, but a little too easy - everyone and everything put into their individual boxes marked "happiness". This is entirely personal and not even exactly a complaint. Stories should have happy endings, I agree. I just don't like being told what the right answer is, or that there even is always an answer which isn't fundamentally just the lesser of two evils.  


This was one of those books I paid for but put in the library's book exchange shelf after reading. I enjoyed it, and would like others to get the chance to enjoy it too, but I don't expect I'll ever want to re-read it - though I might well want to pick up another Jacqueline Winspear.


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