An intricate plot set in the 1920s English countryside and Frances Brody's "refreshingly complex heroine" (Kirkus) Kate Shackleton make A Death in the Dales an absorbing 7th installment in this traditional British cozy mystery.
A murder most foul
When the landlord of a Yorkshire tavern is killed in plain sight, Freda Simonson, the only witness to the crime, becomes plagued with guilt, believing the wrong man has been convicted. Following her death, it seems that the truth will never be uncovered in the peaceful village of Langcliffe...
A village of secrets
But it just so happens that Freda’s nephew is courting the renowned amateur sleuth Kate Shackleton, who decides to holiday in Langcliffe with her indomitable teenage niece, Harriet. When Harriet strikes up a friendship with a local girl whose young brother is missing, the search leads Kate to uncover another suspicious death, not to mention an illicit affair.
The case of a lifetime
As the present mysteries merge with the past’s mistakes, Kate is thrust into the secrets that Freda left behind and realizes that this courageous woman has entrusted her with solving a murder from beyond the grave. It soon becomes clear to her that nothing in Langcliffe is quite as it appears, and with a murderer on the loose and an ever-growing roster of suspects, this isn’t the holiday Kate was expecting...
Frances Brody's Kate Shackleton returns in A Death in the Dales with another mystery that's sure to "hold the reader attention and make them continue reading into the small hours of the night" (York Press, UK).
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About the Author
FRANCES BRODY lives in Leeds. Before turning to crime, she wrote historical sagas, winning the HarperCollins Elizabeth Elgin award for most regionally evocative debut saga of the millennium. She is the author of A Medal for Murder, Murder in the Afternoon, and A Death in the Dales.
Read an Excerpt
A Death in the Dales
A Kate Shackleton Mystery
By Frances Brody
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Frances McNeil
All rights reserved.
Killingbeck Hospital, Leeds
'Kate! Watch where you're treading or you'll ruin your shoes.'
I stepped carefully around bright daffodils. The flowerbed was under the big window that looked onto the girls' ward at the fever hospital. My sister Mary Jane and I were visiting her daughter. Harriet was recovering from diphtheria and we were very lucky that she had pulled through. That dreadful illness brings death to so many. I say 'visiting' but that is something of an exaggeration. We were not allowed entry to the hospital. Under my arm, I had the latest newspaper that carried information about patients. Alongside Harriet's patient number was the word 'Comfortable'. What a relief! She had previously been marked 'Very ill' and 'Serious'. To be described as 'Comfortable' meant that she was finally on the mend.
My reason for stepping onto the flowerbed was to tap on the window and hope to gain attention. Once patients are 'Comfortable' they are able to come to the window and smile at their parents and relatives through the glass. After several taps and careful mouthing of Harriet's name to another young patient, our own Harriet finally appeared.
Mary Jane forgot her intention to keep her shoes pristine. She stepped up to the windowsill, her feet sinking into the damp soil.
We signalled encouragement through the glass. None of us is very good at lip-reading, so our conversation was somewhat limited. But I did make out when she said she was glad to be isolated as she would not want to infect anyone. It was horrible. She patted her chest and panted, showing how hard it had been to catch a breath. 'Is Austin all right?' she asked anxiously, and was relieved when we said that her younger brother was well. 'And the baby?'
Mary Jane beamed. She held up a photograph of the latest addition to the family and pronounced each word with great clarity: 'Baby misses you.'
Our visit was cut short when a nurse, who at least did not glare at us too frostily, escorted Harriet back to her bed.
As we walked towards the gates, Mary Jane let out a great sigh of relief. 'Thank God she's recovered. And I'll be so glad to have her home. I'm run off my feet without Harriet to give a hand. She's so good with the baby.'
The rose bushes at the side of the path had been cut back and were all green stems and sharp thorns. Harriet would be out soon, well before the roses bloomed. 'Mary Jane, Harriet will need to recuperate. I'm going to take her to the Dales for a fortnight. A friend of mine has offered me theuse of his late aunt's house in Langcliffe. It will be just the ticket for Harriet.'
'You see how pale she is, and those dark rings under her eyes. She needs a holiday.'
She gave me a quick glance, as if trying to assess whether there was some ulterior motive behind my words. 'Who is this friend?'
'He's the doctor I met at Bolton Abbey.'
'What do you mean, "ah"? It's nothing like that. I just happened to mention the last time we met that I needed a holiday. His Aunt Freda died six months ago and her house has stood empty since then. It's the perfect spot for Harriet to recover. Don't deny her that.'
'I know you're fond of Harriet, but I wish you wouldn't be so bossy.'
'I'm not bossy. I'm right, and you know it.'
Langcliffe would be the perfect solution to Harriet's and my need for rest and recreation. I hoped.CHAPTER 2
After stopping in Skipton for lunch, we made good progress until negotiating our way through Gargrave. It was a fine Saturday, the first day of May. Slowing the car to a snail's pace, I carefully avoided market stalls, meandering shoppers armed with sturdy baskets, gawpers, and children playing marbles in the gutter.
We had driven all the way from Leeds with the canvas down, enjoying the breeze that made our faces tingle. The river, when it put in an appearance, tumbled angrily, ready for trouble.
Every few miles, I stole a quick glance at Harriet, keen to make sure the journey was not tiring her. She bore up well, valiantly struggling with the map, folding and re-folding as she traced our route. At fourteen she is thankfully too old to keep on saying, 'Are we nearly there?' She is a bright girl and practising her navigating skills gave her something to occupy her mind.
'Follow the sign to Settle, Auntie. After Settle, it'll be a right turn to Langcliffe.'
On the approach to Settle, I noticed the whiteness of the roads, due to the limestone formation. Sharply defined hills, boulders and rocks stood out against green foliage. Castlebergh came into view, towering over the town. We would not be able to climb the great rock but Lucian had told me there were sometimes funfairs there.
Being Saturday, and a market day in Settle, the whole town and inhabitants from miles around colluded in walking on the little strip of road not taken up with stalls selling vegetables, baskets, sheepskin rugs and itchy cardigans. Had I known the area better, I might have tried to find another way and avoid the crush.
Feeling a sense of achievement at not mowing down a single inhabitant, we left Settle behind. As we drove along the narrow road, Harriet gazed at the scenery. Fields and meadows stretched to the hills, their dry stone walls penning in sheep and cattle. 'It's going to be very quiet round here, Auntie.'
Oh dear. Was she disappointed that we had not stayed in smoky Leeds, where we could visit music halls and theatres and stroll about the shopping arcades?
'There'll be plenty going on in Langcliffe. There are May Day celebrations today. And there's the Kirkgate Kinema in Settle.' I tried to make it sound as if this would be the best picture house for a hundred miles, which perhaps it was.
'What's the house like?'
'Wait and see.'
'How long has it stood empty?'
'Since November when Dr Simonson's aunt died. She was his father's sister and brought him up when his parents stayed in India and sent him home.'
'Are you two courting?'
'Mam says you are.'
'Well, if your mam says that it must be true.'
Harriet laughed. She gave me a mischievous look that told me she would soon find out how matters stood between me and the doctor.
Lucian and I had seen each other only a dozen or so times in the past couple of years. Each time, I liked him more. We made each other laugh. He is kind, thoughtful, and has that rare knack of making a person feel she is the centre of his world. Between our trysts, he sends me picture postcards, snippets of rhymes and the occasional bunch of flowers.
Although the words had not been said, we both knew that this fortnight's holiday would decide our future. Lucian has his own cottage in Embsay but also has a share in a practice in Settle. Being left his aunt's house meant big changes. He had asked me to take a look at the place, but that suggestion implied so much more than 'a look'.
'Slow down, Auntie! Here's a right turn coming up.'
I turned more suddenly than intended and was taken by surprise at the steepness of the bumpy cobbles.
How long must Lucian have been standing there, I wondered. There he was, waiting a little way up the street. I brought the car to a halt.
Lucian leaned towards us and raised his cap. He wore tan and green tweed plus fours, a Norfolk jacket and highly polished brown shoes. Undeniably handsome, he looks younger than his thirty-seven years, with a fine head of hair and a slightly weather-beaten complexion.
I felt glad to see him as his face lit up with a beaming smile. 'Hello, Kate! And you must be Harriet.'
'Yes.' Harriet spoke rather stiffly, eyeing him cautiously.
I introduced them.
He reached into the car to shake hands. 'How do you do, Harriet.'
She smiled. 'How do you do, Dr Simonson.'
He glanced at our valises that were behind, in place of the dickey seat. 'Not much luggage.'
'We have a trunk coming by rail.'
'Glad to hear it! I'm suspicious of ladies who travel light.' He waved with the stick. 'Straight up into the village. You'll see a fountain with a memorial cross. The house is to the right of that, the one with my motor parked outside.'
'Do you want a lift on the running board, Lucian?'
'Best not. I'll cling to my shreds of dignity.'
I smiled. 'Right. See you up there.'
Passing terraced grey stone cottages with tiled roofs, I continued towards the top end of the village.
Harriet turned back and waved to Lucian. 'He's nice.'
'Yes he is.'
'You didn't tell me he has a limp.'
'It's not polite to mention a person's limp within seconds of seeing him.'
'I expect he was in the war.'
'You expect right.'
'So you were both in the war.' She made this sound as if The War had been a fine opportunity for romantic assignations. 'Is that where you met him?'
She was suddenly diverted. 'Oh look! There's a band and everything.'
The Langcliffe Brass Band played a stirring tune from their spot between the large sycamore tree and the war memorial with its fountain base. 'Well of course! They're celebrating our arrival.'
Harriet's eyes widened. 'Do they know we're coming ...? Oh, you! I fall for it every time.'
Harriet and I spotted Lucian's Bugatti at the same moment.
She pointed. 'That must be the house.'
Aunt Freda's cottage was a substantial house constructed like the others roundabout of local limestone, fronted by a neat garden, planted by someone who had loved lilac and lavender, hence the name Lilac Cottage.
I drove just beyond Lucian's car and parked by the corner from where we could see the village green. Children played around the maypole, adults chatted, some sitting on the grass enjoying the sunshine, others gathering around the Morris dancers. Music, laughter and children's high-pitched voices filled the air.
On the other side of the green was the parish church, stone with a slate roof and a porch. At the top end of the village was the school.
Harriet climbed from the car and went to sit on the low wall at the front of the house. 'I like it here. It's not as bad as I thought it would be. There's a fair few shops.'
I joined her on the wall and we surveyed the scene.
Back the way we had come was a most strange-looking building, a narrow three-storey house that did not seem to fit with the other houses. Somewhere nearby was Threlfall Hall, home to Langcliffe's landowning squirearchy including, according to Lucian, a girl of Harriet's age.
Green hills surrounded the village. Cloud shadows and shafts of sunlight formed a still picture, contrasting with lively laughter and friendly voices from the village green. There would be no urgent calls upon my investigative services here.
After all my enquiries into dastardly goings on, it was a great relief to arrive in such a peaceful spot.
Some of the children sidled over to look at the new car that had arrived in their village, and at us. Harriet explained to them that the car was called a Jowett and that her aunt liked blue. She did not deign to move from her spot on the wall, being so much older than the children who congregated to gaze and admire.
Twisting her hair around her finger, one little girl asked, 'Have you come to live here?'
'Just for a short time.' Harriet drummed her heels on the wall. 'We are on holiday. My aunt is a private investigating detective and needs to rest her brain.'
Thank you Harriet, I said to myself, for announcing my occupation. Fortunately, the little girl had not the vaguest notion of what Harriet was saying, although she looked impressed.
As Harriet saw Lucian approaching, she picked up her case and lugged it along the path to the front door.
After a few moments, he was leaning into the car to pick up my valise. He called to Harriet. 'It's not locked, Harriet, you can go in!'
Harriet flung open the door.
Lucian smiled. 'Watch out, Kate, she'll commandeer the best bedroom.'
He stood back to let me walk along the path. 'I hope you like it. I've had the place cleaned. My aunt didn't believe in throwing anything away, though she did have new sash windows installed so it's much lighter here than when I was growing up. Oh and the room that was mine, that's been redecorated and has new furniture.' He spoke to Harriet who had already walked through the house and back. 'Take a look at the back bedroom. It has new furniture called fumed oak. See what you think.'
Harriet carried her case upstairs, refusing Lucian's help.
He took my hands. 'I'm so glad you're here. Come on, I'll show you round.'
It was just the kind of house I like, with a central tiled hall, an off-centre staircase, and rooms on either side. The hall was decorated with Anaglypta paper in brown and cream. An attractive grandmother clock stood on one side and a hall stand complete with coat hooks and walking sticks on the other. A raincoat still hung there.
We paused in the hall. 'The kettle has been on so it shouldn't be long in boiling.' Lucian carried my valise upstairs.
I glanced into the parlour, crammed with old-fashioned furniture and ornaments, and a rocker that I could have sworn moved. I could imagine Lucian's Aunt Freda looking up, a lace cap on her head, her long skirts brushing the footstool.
I walked on through the hall to a large kitchen at the back. A curtained alcove contained a maid's bed. In the centre of the room stood a sturdy table covered by a patterned oilcloth. Covered with white tea cloths, the plates held sandwiches, pork pie and cakes. Dishes gleamed on the Welsh dresser. The gas cooker looked as new as the day it was bought. I imagined that Aunt Freda had been suspicious of gas.
Nothing about the house prepared me for the miraculous view through the kitchen window. The wall enclosing the garden was constructed of those tiny dark red bricks favoured by the Elizabethans. A tree near the solid wooden arched gate shimmered with delicate apple blossom. Earthenware pots of herbs cast shadows across the path. Aunt Freda must have loved this patch of earth. Someone had gone on tending it in the months since her death. I felt a stab of sorrow that she was not here to see the phlox, snapdragons, Canterbury bells, sweet peas and carnations. In between the flowers were vegetable patches, marked out with string and with flutters of paper to discourage birds. The crooked garden shed had been patched and mended over the years.
I opened the door and stepped out. On the garden bench under the window lay a new skipping rope and a couple of tennis balls.
By the time I went back inside, Lucian had made a pot of tea and he and Harriet had settled themselves at the table. He presented her with a sixpenny compass and encouraged her to take it with her when we went for walks. They went into the garden and he showed her how to use it while his cup of tea went cold.
'Who's the gardener, Lucian?' I asked when they came back inside.
'I am, for the time being.'
'I didn't know you were a keen gardener.'
'You didn't ask.'
'You're a man of hidden talents.'
'Well of course, and talking of that, I've stupidly promised to help set up our photographic society exhibition in Settle Town Hall tomorrow, before we fixed our dates. I can cancel it if you want to do something special.'
'No, you stick to your plans. Harriet and I will do a little exploring on our own.'
'Come in to Settle if you have time. You should take a look, since you'll have a couple of photographs on display.'
'Oh good! I didn't know whether my entries would pass muster.'
'Stop fishing for compliments! You know very well they would.'
Harriet looked from one to the other of us. Was she making mental notes of how we got on, to report back to her mother?
She bit into her egg and cress sandwich. 'Is that skipping rope for me?' Lucian frowned. 'What skipping rope?'
'The new one someone must have bought for me, along with the tennis balls and compass.'
'Oh that skipping rope.' Lucian pushed the cake stand towards her. There were iced buns, vanilla slices and currant cake. 'I suppose you won't believe me if I say it was left by the fairy of the Dale.'
Harriet groaned. 'I'm too old for that sort of remark!' 'Excuse me!'
When Harriet had gone out to explore, Lucian showed me round the house.
The front bedroom was spacious, decorated with fading William Morris patterned wallpaper. Aunt Freda must have had a mixture of tastes, traditional and modern. The oak bedroom suite, dressing table, wardrobe and tall boy in the front bedroom looked the kind of thing a couple might buy, or be bought, for their wedding. Their wedding in 1860. I wondered about Aunt Freda, and whether taking care of Lucian had been a reason why she never married. From what he had told me, she was thirty-four years old when she started to care for him when he was six. She was sixty-four when she died last year.
Against one wall was a big brass bed covered with a white candlewick spread.
Excerpted from A Death in the Dales by Frances Brody. Copyright © 2015 Frances McNeil. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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