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by Frances Brody
Minotaur, February 2018
400 pages
ISBN: 1250154790

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Holding readers' interest over the span of multiple books in a series can get tricky and require just a bit too much suspension of disbelief. But in Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton Mysteries, Brody seems to have aligned the elements to make it easier to avoid boredom and disbelief. First, there's Kate herself who is spunky, likeable, smart, caring, and believable. Her sidekicks, who have ever-increasing roles as the series progresses, are equally interesting and provide some nice opportunities for subplots. And the books are set in England in the 1920s, giving Brody lots of material to work with as she creates an enchanting world—and that world is large enough to continue to provide murders without killing off a whole village. However, DEATH IN THE STARS, the ninth book in the series, falls a little flat in spite of all it has going for it.

At the beginning of the novel, Kate accepts a vague request from singing legend Selina Fellini to accompany her to view the upcoming eclipse and just take care of any trouble that might occur. Kate, feeling uneasy about the lack of details and, what she suspects is also a lack of forthcomingness, accepts. Brody captures the scene of the eclipse well, and when Selina's friend Billy is found unconscious, and Kate is left to wait with him as he dies, then drives home after a day that has everyone disoriented, Brody continues to evoke a feeling of time-out-of place that should work. But somehow, the vagueness and disorientation at the beginning permeate the whole novel in a way that keeps it from ever really getting its footing. The plot line itself, while nicely twisted, is just a little too easy to see through while, at the same time, never becoming much more than a series of ramblings to find out if people may or may not have been murdered. Mysterious figures appear and disappear. Kate wanders with a stranger through an unsettling underground world somewhat reminiscent of Phantom of the Opera. The theater people struggle with facing a future that has little room for variety acts and is all about movies and the wireless. And in the end, in what is probably an appropriately theatrical way but seems too contrived, Kate solves the mystery. Overall, the reader is left with the feeling that Brody constructed a plot less to tell a story than to give her an excuse to describe the underground city and the eclipse of 1927, and while the individual scenes may be nice, they don't work as well as a whole as Brody's previous novels have.

The odd thing is, in spite of its rather dream-like qualities, its wandering storyline, and less-than-developed characters, DEATH IN THE STARS still has a certain appeal. It's still England in 1927, and Kate, Sykes, and Mrs. Sugden are all still characters you enjoy spending time with. If you're a fan of the series, you won't want to miss it. If this is your introduction to Kate and her world, you might want to start with another in the series—or at least don't judge the whole series by this book, because all in all, the series continues to be one with lots of potential that just doesn't shine quite as brightly in this installment as it has in others. But we can still look forward to the next one.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, January 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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