I seem to have come rather late to Frances Brody, the Leeds-based author of the Kate Shackleton mysteries, as this is the seventh book in the series. Maybe I have been avoiding them because they sat in our (short-lived) ‘cosy crime’ section – although I am a big fan of tv’s Midsomer Murders (or Murder Most Reassuring as they are known in our house) – but I now think I’m going to have to find time to go back over the first six!
I think my first mistake was in assuming that ‘cosy’ meant simple and maybe a bit twee. Lets face it, up until this month I’d never even read any Agatha Christie – once again relying on the tv adaptations – and when did I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed them. I think the tv angle is my problem – these are staples of Sunday evening viewing so how violent and sordid can they be? Well, on the evidence of Death in the Dales, the answer is ‘really quite violent and sordid’.
The story is set in the Yorkshire Dales, around Settle and the North Craven district, and the descriptions of the countryside are beautiful, calm and soothing. But nowhere can always be as relaxing as it appears to be on the surface. The setting is 1926, during the General Strike, with a strand of the plot dealing with the events of 1916 (a rather lethal combination of the Great War and the Easter Rising) so there are undercurrents of unrest from the beginning. And, of course, a murder…
This book is ‘cosy’. There is tea on the terrace, horse-riding in the hills and lots of hearty food. But we also get to see the darker secrets lurking in the most familiar of settings. Which is rather like watching Countryfile and seeing reports on illegitimacy, murder, the exploitation of child workers, incest and mercy killings – I mean, it is interesting but rather surprising. The actual crimes themselves are not treated in such an in-depth and graphic way as most modern crime fiction but the motives and undercurrents are as bleak as any… And the relationships in the book are, in the end, much more complex than they first appear. The author is very good at mentioning key points that occurred in previous novels so I never felt that I was missing any of this book by not having read the others. However, I enjoyed the book enough that I will soon be having to make some time to read about Kate Shackleton’s earlier adventures.