Death of an Avid Reader is classified as ‘Cosy Crime’; taking her lead from the likes of Agatha Christie, Frances Brody invites readers to join her amateur female detective, Kate Shackleton, as she unravels the mysteries of a long-since adopted illegitimate child, and a library-based murder.
The story begins with Kate Shackleton being invited to London to meet with an aristocratic woman who has a secret: many years before she had an affair and fell pregnant, and to avoid scandal, the baby was adopted. Now she is dying, she wants to know that her daughter is well, and she employs the widowed amateur detective to do some digging around. Of course, that’s not a story that would fill a book, so alongside that, we have the mysterious murder of Horatio Potter, a local mathematician who, along with Kate herself, serves on the board of the local library.
Death of an Avid Reader is the sixth Kate Shackleton Mystery. It’s always a worry when the first book you pick up in a series isn’t the first chronologically, because you have to rely on the author’s deft touch at filling in any gaps in knowledge you may have, without spending chapters setting the scene, and explaining each character’s backstory. Luckily Brody manages this well; I was never left to wonder for too long over the motives for Kate Shackleton’s decision to become an amateur detective, nor was I confused as to how each character fitted into her life. In the same way that I have never felt the need to read the Poirot series chronologically, I don’t think it matters which is the first Kate Shackleton Mystery you read.
The plot was entertaining; just enough melodrama to keep things interesting, with the odd hint that things were going to get supernatural before pulling back to reveal that there was a feasible explanation for everything. Kate Shackleton is a well-written main character; rather than trying to make her a woman who is decades before her time, Brody makes sure she is a woman of the era, who tries her best to overcome the limits that society places on her while accepting that there are some things she cannot do. She engages the help of Sykes, a former policeman, who assists her on her cases. Having a man around simply makes things easier for her in a society that doesn’t always value women who want to work outside the home.
The title, Death of an Avid Reader, gives some clue as to the setting of the book, and if that wasn’t enough, the lovely retro-inspired cover does the the rest of the work. Horatio Potter is murdered in the library, and that’s where a lot of the action takes place, amongst the dusty tomes and with the librarians and patrons.
There’s a reason this type of book is called Cosy Crime; there’s no gruesome crime scenes to contend with, the villains are villainous without being brutal, and the heroes are down-to-earth, sympathetic characters you root for throughout the story. Everything is tied up in a neat bow, ready for Kate Shackleton to move on to her next mystery, and fans of this type of novel know exactly what they are going to get. Whilst it won’t set the world alight, it’s a perfectly enjoyable way to spend time, immersing yourself in post-war Leeds and going along for the ride, trying to work out who the killer is.
Death of an Avid Reader
First published: 2nd October 2014
Review copy provided by publisher