I’m happy to say that tenacious amateur sleuth Kate Shackleton is back for her eighth outing. (I wrote about my first encounter with Kate in Whitby here.) This time she’s in for some starry encounters, as she scores an unusual invitation to view the 1927 eclipse and is drawn into investigating some dramatic deaths.
Yorkshire, 1927. Eclipse fever grips the nation, and when beloved theatre star Selina Fellini approaches trusted sleuth Kate Shackleton to accompany her to a viewing party at Giggleswick School Chapel, Kate suspects an ulterior motive.
During the eclipse, Selina’s friend and co-star Billy Moffatt disappears and is later found dead in the chapel grounds. Kate can’t help but dig deeper and soon learns that two other members of the theatre troupe died in similarly mysterious circumstances in the past year. With the help of Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden, Kate sets about investigating the deaths – and whether there is a murderer in the company.
When Selina’s elusive husband Jarrod, injured in the war and subject to violent mood swings, comes back on the scene, Kate begins to imagine something far deadlier at play, and wonders just who will be next to pay the ultimate price for fame . . .
Frances Brody captures all the excitement of the 1927 eclipse well and weaves it seamlessly into her story. It’s fascinating to see where the Astronomer Royal chooses to view it from in the path of totality and how the author uses that setting so well, bringing in minor as well as the main characters to help us see the relevance to them as well as those who attend the ticketed event. I got a real sense of occasion, the planning which went into it, and its importance to the chosen school. I also enjoyed how breezily Kate manages to arrange a flight up there and back.
Death in the Stars clips along at a fair old pace and I read it quickly. I enjoyed the look both in front of and behind the curtain at variety shows during the late 1920s and how the rise in radio and movies was threatening their continued existence. Change is in the air and there is a way of life slowly dying out here too, alongside the more sudden deaths of troupe members. I also appreciated how Frances Brody touches on post-traumatic stress from people’s wartime efforts or their being closely involved in a shocking incident and the physical and mental legacy of their experiences. She shows the reader both the supposed glamour of life on the stage and showbiz parties as well as the more routine life backstage and in between performances, once the lights come up, the audience goes home, the costumes and make-up removed.
Kate Shackleton’s breezy no-nonsense approach to life and the investigations she carries out comes into its own in Death in the Stars when she spends time with local girl and rising star Selina Fellini and the troupe of variety performers who are touring with her. It’s refreshing to have Kate among them when you don’t know which of them to trust, Selina Fellini included, and you’re trying to work out if they are what they seem or if their motivations are darker. Happily, despite a desperate lack of sleep stemming from the early morning eclipse and its deadly aftermath, Kate manages to keep her wits about her and is the steady centre to this novel. She’s on home turf for the most part in Death in the Stars and it’s great to see her assistant Jim Sykes and her housekeeper Mrs Sugden play more of a role in this investigation where you see them really working together as a team, splitting the workload and giving their reasons for doing so.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this latest of Frances Brody’s novels: Death in the Stars wraps great period detail, an interesting mix of characters and topical stories from the period around an intriguing mystery but wisely keeps it all firmly centred around her sparky and appealing amateur detective, Kate Shackleton. There’s both a matinee and evening performance of a story here for your delectation and delight. Get yourself a copy, take your seat and enjoy the show: Death in the Stars is out now.
Death in the Stars by Frances Brody is a Kate Shackleton mystery and is published by Piatkus, an imprint of Little, Brown. It is available as an audiobook and ebook and in hardback and paperback. You can buy it from Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Waterstones and Wordery. To find out more about Frances Brody and her books, check out her Author Website or follow her on Twitter.
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