RogerBW's Blog

Dying in the Wool, Frances Brody 12 February 2019

2009 mystery, first in the Kate Shackleton series (amateur detection). Kate's husband went missing in action in 1918; unable to locate him, she turned her hand to finding other vanished people. Now in 1922 an old VAD friend wants to find her missing father, who vanished after a possible suicide attempt. Some people don't want the past dug up.

There are some 'tween-wars mysteries that are solidly of the "what fun" school, like Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher books. There are others that try to be a bit more gritty, and this is one of them. There is blackmail and adultery and bastardy and, perhaps more to the point, nobody here seems to be having any fun with either their sins or their rectitude, either before or after the mystery is solved.

And yet the structure is more appropriate to a cosy: Kate comes in, asks questions, uncovers a murder, and sorts everything out. (Though the killer goes unpunished, for Reasons.) There's an attempt to put her in physical danger but it's unconvincing.

I really liked the basic idea here – a not-quite-widow, enthusiastic motorist and photographer, trying to make a life in the absence of her husband – and the post-War setting. But the people didn't engage me (though I was at least able to keep them distinct), the infodumps on the operation of a textile mill killed what pace there was, and the occasional flashbacks (giving the reader information known to suspects but not at the time to Kate) felt lazy.

It certainly doesn't help that Brody is desperately unwilling to use the word "might" even when it's clearly the right one. "I wondered what Dr Grainger may want to say to me." "I took a sip, and immediately wished I hadn't, expecting she may have poisoned me."

Followed by A Medal for Murder, but I feel no great enthusiasm for continuing with this series.

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