It's 1924, and Kate Shackleton has earned respect as a private investigator, so much so that the India Office calls upon her services when a visiting Indian royal, the Maharajah Narayan Halkwaer of Gattiawan, vanishes while on a shooting excursion on the grounds of Bolton Abbey. Kate's cousin James, a high-ranking bureaucrat in the India Office, wakes her out of a sound sleep to request her help in locating him.
Narayan's disappearance has many folks worried. He had brought many valuable jewels with him; Gattiawan is embroiled in a rivalry with a nearby Indian state; and, most scandalous of all, he was enjoying a dalliance with an unsuitable woman, a former Folies Bergère dancer... who claims that he was about to make her his second wife.
Before too long, Kate has fulfilled her task, though the outcome is hardly what she'd hoped. There are not one but two suspicious deaths, but nearly everyone from local villagers to the India Office prefer to call them "tragic accidents." Why? Kate's also puzzled about the reason her help was sought in the first place. Left on her own to investigate possible foul play, Kate is up to the task, of course, with the help of her assistant, former policeman Jim Sykes (whose undercover role as a tourist in search of good fishing leads to some funny moments).
As was the case with Murder in the Afternoon, this entry is both a crime novel and a carefully drawn portrait of 1920s country life in Yorkshire. The pacing is leisurely early on, and it takes the appearance of Lydia Metcalfe, Narayan's supposed fiancée, to liven up the action – something which would undoubtedly please her to know. Lydia is a hoot. Although born into a local farming family, she's always felt she deserved better. If social acceptance isn't within her reach, wealth will suit her just fine. And, as illustrated in the book, the Indian royals (who bring trunks of clothing, jewels, and large entourages wherever they travel) do live very well indeed.
|Bolton Hall at Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire, photo by Jonathan Palombo|
(avail on Wikimedia commons, licensed via CC BY 2.0)
Bolton Abbey is a real place, a 50,000-acre estate owned by the Dukes of Devonshire, and I enjoyed walking the moor and exploring the lands along the River Wharfe (including the treacherous rapids and waterfalls known as the Strid) alongside Kate and her companions. The Duke and Duchess remain in the background in the novel, which I think was a wise decision. Although she may seem to be an unlikely character, Lydia Metcalfe is based on an actual person, and you can read more about her real-life inspiration, Stella Mudge, in Coralie Younger's deliciously named Wicked Women of the Raj.
Murder on a Summer's Day was published by Minotaur in February 2016 ($25.99/C$29.99, hardcover, 401pp).