Death and the Brewery Queen, twelfth in the Kate Shackleton 1930s detective series by Frances Brody, is a story of two halves and two murders. As always, sensible Kate is on hand to bring calm and control to a messy situation.
Kate and her sidekick Jim Sykes are employed by a brewery owner to sort out some business irregularities at Barleycorn Brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire. Is it a matter of employee pilfering, aggressive competitors, inefficiency or fraud? This is a low-key beginning, a gentle start which allows Brody to establish a wide cast of characters. The portrayal of the brewery and the town is the foundation for the series of linked crimes that follow. Threaded throughout the book is the story of Barleycorn’s wages clerk, Ruth Parnaby, and her quest to be crowned Northern Breweries’ beauty queen. The story is told in multiple viewpoints – Kate’s voice is first person, but in the voices of Mr Sykes, Harriet and Ruth we gather information that Kate doesn’t know. It does seem rather a long wait for the first death, after which the story speeds up and the false clues and connections begin to make sense.
Kate is a memorable, admirable heroine. She is firm and managerial when she needs to be, determined and unafraid of confronting male officialdom but also well-connected which helps break down barriers and find information possibly quite difficult to confirm quickly at that time. And she’s not afraid to take risks. She also proves empathetic to the struggles of the grindingly poor people involved in the outer circles of the story. Kate, a widow, has her own close family – niece Harriet, employee Mr Sykes, housekeeper Mrs Sugden, and of course her bloodhound Sergeant Dog – who each bring different but essential skills when on the hunt for a murderer.
This is a stop-start read, in contrast to the previous Kate Shackleton books I’ve read, but enjoyable nonetheless. Brody excels at drawing her 1920s and 1930s settings, so realistic and believable. A special mention for the scenes in Scarborough’s Grand Hotel, which I visited as an awestruck child.
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