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by Frances Brody
Minotaur Books, February 2014
432 pages
ISBN: 0312622406

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

We never really know our friends and colleagues - even those closest to us - do we? That's one premise of this cozy mystery set in 1920s Harrogate, the second in Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton series.

Spunky, kind-hearted Kate Shackleton is the private detective who begins here by investigating a pawnshop robbery but quickly finds herself drawn into the investigation of murder, kidnapping, and a multitude of secrets from the past that have long-reaching effects. Some of the secrets and situations are easy for the reader to solve and/or see through; other answers aren't revealed until the last pages of the book, all of which keeps the plot moving quickly. And throughout it all, there are delightful descriptions of clothing, cars, and interiors from the 1920s that give a real sense of the time and setting. But while this is a cozy mystery set in a glamorous spa town and dealing with fairly genteel people, there are also darker undercurrents that lend an unsettling atmosphere to the overall story. While most of the action takes place in the 1920s, some chapters flash back to the Boer War and wartime horrors, and even the events in the more upbeat 1920s sections include references to women's changing roles and hard choices that give the story a decided edge. In addition to slipping in some darker elements, Brody also adds interest by setting up hard questions with no easy answers that both Kate and the reader must come to terms with: who deserves justice, and is justice itself subject to circumstances?

None of this is to say, though, that A MEDAL FOR MURDER is a heavy slog. On the contrary, it's a fast, easy read with an engaging main character who is the star of a series worth watching. In addition to Shackleton, we also see more of the Scotland Yard detective Marcus Charles who becomes Shackleton's love interest; Jim Sykes, Shackleton's assistant with whom she doesn't always see eye-to-eye; and meet a well-drawn cast of characters specific to this mystery, each with a distinct personality and plenty of secrets to keep both Shackleton and the reader guessing. While many of those secrets make a surprising number of the characters unlikable to varying degrees, it's proof of Brody's talent - and her portrayal of the very likeable Kate Shackleton - that, overall, the reader still cares about getting to know them and their stories.

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

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, January 2014

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