Murder on a Summer's Day (Kate Shackleton)
by Frances Brody
Cover Artist: Helen Chapman
Review by Steven Kuehn
Minotaur Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250067517
Date: 14 February 2017 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
It is said you can't judge a book by its cover, but this novel is certainly an exception, in my opinion. A woman, tired from her travels, sits on her luggage at a bucolic country train station. Despite her weariness, her pose and expression belie alertness, attentiveness, and intelligence. A bright green steam engine idles on the track with a row of gaily-decorated cottages on the opposite side. A very pleasant, happy scene, and then your eyes are drawn to the dark-suited, menacing figure in the background. The juxtaposition of dark and light is a perfect metaphor for the title, Murder on a Summer's Day.
The story itself has a classic, traditional plot. Kate Shackleton is summoned by her cousin James to assist in the disappearance of Prince Narayan, a maharajah visiting the Duke of Devonshire's estate in Yorkshire. After her arrival, the missing-person case turns into a murder investigation when the body of the prince is found in the woods. Controversy arises as to whether his death was an accident or the result of foul play, made all the more complicated when a valuable diamond held by Prince Narayan disappears. Add in a bit of local folklore and a colorful cast of supporting characters and you have all the necessary ingredients for a wonderful period mystery.
Frances Brody does an excellent job describing the various scenes and settings in the book. Set in the postwar 1920s, there is a palpable feeling of transition in the storyline, with the Empire changing notably from the Victorian era. Above all, I loved the characters; the primary players are well developed, and even the secondary characters are finely constructed and fit well into the novel. In particular, Kate Shackleton comes across as a strong, progressive woman of her times. She is independent, strong, resourceful, and sharp, with the perfect background and traits for skilled detective. This is exactly the type of character I enjoy in a female lead. What is more, Kate is powerful in a natural manner; her sex is irrelevant and the reader is not constantly reminded that she is a female detective in a man's world (a mechanism that a number of other authors tend to rely on overly much). I am curious to read the earlier novels in the series, to see how Kate's character developed and evolved over time.
Murder on a Summer's Day is a wonderful whodunit with engaging characters, nice twists, and a thrilling, satisfying conclusion. I heartily recommend it to everyone who enjoys period mysteries with strong characters and excellent storylines. I need to make room on my bookshelves for the first six volumes in this series and look forward to future novels by Frances Brody.