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by Frances Brody
Minotaur Books, February 2014
387 pages
ISBN: 1250037026

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton mysteries just keep getting better. MURDER IN THE AFTERNOON, the third book in the series, spends less time on period details - although time and place are skillfully portrayed - which leaves more time for character development, and the more we get to know Kate, the more we like her. Smart, complicated, and self-assured, she makes her way through the world of 1920s England, dealing with dangerous murderers, complex relationships, and changing attitudes with thoughtfulness and skill.

Brody knows that this is first and foremost a murder mystery, and she keeps the fast-paced plot moving from a 4 a.m. wake-up call through a week brimming with intrigue, beginning with a missing husband who may or may not have been murdered, moving quickly to another suspicious death, and throwing in some unexplained money (blackmail?), spying, and betrayal for good measure. We also learn early on that this mystery has particularly close ties to Kate herself, making her more involved and less unbiased than she would be otherwise and adding an element of moral dilemma to the case in what seems to be becoming signature Brody style.

Also in keeping with earlier books, Brody doesn't just spin a great yarn: she also weaves in deeper, somewhat darker struggles that were so much a part of post-WWI England (and are still in play today), ranging from workers' unions to women's rights, but does it with such finesse that they are simply part of the tale rather than strident posturings. And while murder is definitely wrong, not much else in Brody's world can be so easily classified as good or evil. Shades of gray pervade both the landscape and the moral (and personal) choices throughout her story, which makes it all the more interesting - and authentic. Mary Jane, wife of the missing man, has some dubious dealings with the local gentry that might or might not end up being deemed "bad." Ethan Armstrong, the missing man, was by no means a saint, though he was a beloved - and maddening - husband and father. Even Kate's love interest, the newly promoted Chief Inspector Marcus Charles, isn't presented as entirely admirable in the way he views Kate, which leaves Kate facing some hard questions about herself and what she wants out of life.

As Kate motors hither and yon, discovering what she suspects is a second murder victim, uncovering romantic entanglements, fending off questions from her family about her relationship with Marcus, discovering mysteries about her past, and defending herself from a murderer, Jim Sykes climbs aboard his son's bicycle and goes undercover as a stocking salesman to try to get closer to the action. His perceptive insights lead to helpful discoveries, and Brody devotes a good portion of the book to Sykes and his perspective, giving him a more important role than he has had before as well as making the story more interesting by telling it from multiple points of view.

Overall, Brody reveals the complexity of her characters as much as she does the solution to the puzzle, giving this traditional cozy a nice depth. She also seems to have decided that these characters are now strong enough to stand on their own, for she offers no references to the previous books in the series but simply slips in subtle hints that clue the reader into the various relationships that continue to evolve among the main characters. That ensures that MURDER IN THE AFTERNOON can easily be read as a stand-alone novel, although it is hard to imagine that anyone who meets Kate Shackleton here won't want to read more of her exploits.

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

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, February 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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