by Sandra Murphy
This week we have a review of Death of an Avid Reader by Frances Brody, along with a fun interview with Frances. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Death of an Avid Reader, and a link to order it from Amazon, as well as a link to purchase it from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Death of an Avid Reader: Kate Shackleton Series by Frances Brody
Review by Sandra Murphy
Lady Jane Coulton has requested the assistance of Kate Shackleton, former nurse and now detective, in a delicate matter. Years ago, Lady Jane had a baby who was given up for adoption. Now that she’s ill and dying, Lady Jane would like to meet her daughter. She had word of the girl for a few years, but after the war (1911) she lost touch with the adopting family.
At the same time, there are problems at the local library, and Kate is asked to witness an exorcism of all things. Forty years ago, a ghost was first seen late one night. Now, with the exception of Miss Montague, the staff is reluctant to go into the basement since there have been weird noises. The library is becoming quite popular since it acquired some rare books, so something has to be done about the ghost.
Dr. Potter, a board member, worries that the publicity surrounding the rare volumes will not just attract the scholarly but thieves as well. Mr. Lennox, the head librarian, Mrs. Carmichael, deputy librarian, as witnesses, and Father Bolingbroke, exorcist, were to get rid of the ghost, but Mrs. Carmichael convinces Kate to witness the event in her place.
When Father, Lennox, and Kate reach the basement, Lennox goes ahead to turn on the lights. Instead of the ghost, he finds a dead body. In addition, there’s an unconscious man, near death himself, there too.
Things just get more complicated from there. Kate finds that Lady Jane’s daughter worked as a librarian, and Miss Montague from her own library has disappeared. Could they be one and the same? There’s a murder to solve, the mystery of the ghost to figure out, an organ grinder’s monkey to care for, and stolen books to find as well.
The mystery is a good one, solved at a slower pace than those set in more modern times. Kate is a woman you’d want to tend to you if you were sick, a friend you could talk to, and a good detective with the help of her partner, Jim Sykes, ex-policeman. Readers should pay close attention to detail as the mystery unwinds—sometimes it’s the smallest thing that gives the killer away.
Interview with Frances Brody:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Francis: Letter writing isn’t usually regarded as a capital W—Writing, but while at school I had lots of pen friends. It was a good way of learning to express thoughts and experiences on paper as well as taking an interest in other lives and other places. I was also good at telling stories and passing them off as truth.
KRL: Lets start by giving us something about your first novel. Do you have great acceptance story to share?
Francis: Sisters on Bread Street, my first novel, came out in 2003. Bread Street was where my mother Julia lived until she was orphaned at age eleven. The novel is based on Julia’s memories, though fictionalized and interwoven with broader historical strands. I brought it out myself in a limited edition because by the time it was finished Julia didn’t have long to live. She asked would it be a success.
Julia died on March 17, 2003. On March 17, 2004, my agent called from the London Book Fair giving me news of a two book deal: Sisters on Bread Street plus one. Julia was looking down on me.
Sisters on Bread Street and two other historical novels, written before I ‘turned to crime,’ have this year been re-issued in the UK.
KRL: What other genres have you written?
Francis: Before publishing three historical novels, I wrote short stories, many of which were published or broadcast. One early story, “Waters of Kowloon” broadcast on the BBC Radio short story slot, did have an element of mystery—it centered on a policeman in Hong Kong. I, then, wrote stories, scripts, and plays for BBC Radio and television and also for theatre. My first “big” play for radio was based on the true story of the Pendle witches who were tried and executed in 1612.
The eighth Kate Shackleton novel will be published in the UK in October 2016 and by late 2017 or early 2018 US and UK dates will coincide.
KRL: That is really interesting. What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your Kate Shackleton books? Can you tell us a little more about the setting and characters in your latest book?
Francis: The mysteries all feature Kate Shackleton, her assistant Jim Sykes, and housekeeper Mrs Sugden. Death of an Avid Reader is set in the oldest surviving subscription library in the UK, which just happens to be in my hometown. Dating from 1768, the Leeds Library is situated on a busy shopping street. Stepping inside is like going back in time. I decided to set a story there when I learned that the premises were said to be haunted by the ghost of a former librarian.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Francis: I write what interests me and hope that readers will find the stories engaging and entertaining.
KRL: Do you have a schedule you follow to write or just write whenever you can?
Francis: I have been writing a book a year for about twelve years, and so I have to keep to some kind of schedule. Nearer to my deadline, the writing hours expand and afterwards contract a little.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Francis: I walk around my locations, look at old maps, browse local papers (as much as one can ‘browse’ on microfiche), and look at photographs.
KRL: Do you outline? Or do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Francis: I know where and when the story will be set and have vague inklings about what Kate Shackleton will investigate. I start with an A4 notebook. When I have written a certain amount, I make brief chapter notes to help me see where to go next. It’s been said that writing is like driving in fog. You can see as far as the gleam of your headlights and sometimes that’s far enough.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Francis: Morning, just after I go into the garden to put food out for the birds.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Francis: Two early novels were rejected. I look back on these as my practice pieces.
KRL: Do you have an interesting book signing story?
Francis: At my first signing, a tipsy woman made a beeline for the refreshment table. She picked up a glass and said, “I’m only here for the wine.” I’ve also had bookmark collectors and people sheltering from the rain. All are welcome!
It’s a joy to meet up with someone from my past. I’ve reconnected with an old school friend and with a former student.
KRL: What are your future writing goals?
Francis: I’m writing the next Kate Shackleton book, ninth in the series.
KRL: Who are some of your writing heroes?
Francis: Many authors in the mystery and crime writing community spring to mind. They are generous to other writers, resilient, talented, and too modest to be named.
KRL: What do you like to read?
Francis: Novels from the “Golden Age”; books by my contemporaries; whatever is the monthly choice at my library book club. I’ve just finished an Elaine Viets mystery shopper story which made me laugh out loud.
In less than a month I’ll be at Bouchercon, New Orleans, and so top of my ‘TBR’ pile is Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season and James Lee Burke’s The Tin Roof Blowdown.
KRL: What are some of your favorite TV shows?
Francis: I enjoy Endeavour, Shetland, Vera, Happy Valley, Madmen, and The Sopranos.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Francis: Write what you want to write, not what you think publishers are looking for. When you read through your first, second, or third draft, don’t despair. Be your own helpful friend and editor.
KRL: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Francis: I’m delighted to be published in the US and happy to hear from readers. Thanks to the readers, booksellers, reviewers, and bloggers who have made me feel so welcome. If you’d like to hear from me, you can sign up for my occasional newsletter on the homepage of my website.
To enter to win a copy of Death of an Avid Reader, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “avid,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 10, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
Use this link to purchase the book & a portion goes to help support KRL & indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy:
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