In this 6th outing in Frances Brody’s ongoing series set around Leeds in the 1920s, Kate finds herself solving multiple mysteries at once. First, Jane, Lady Coulton, hires Kate to find the secret illegitimate daughter she was forced to give up over 20 years earlier. The baby was raised by the sister of Lady Coulton’s former nanny, a fishmonger’s wife, but she and her family have moved elsewhere, and the trail has gone cold.
In addition, as a longtime shareholder of the Leeds Library, Kate agrees to participate in a religious ritual to banish the resident “ghost” from the library’s basement. She believes any odd happenings people experienced were more likely caused by teenage pranks than poltergeists but goes along with the process. To everyone’s shock, the ceremony turns up the dead body of one of Kate’s fellow readers. The local police inspector immediately blames an Italian organ grinder, based on circumstantial evidence, even though Kate knows the man was too ill to commit the crime. There are also rumors of a book thief afoot…
Kate is a heroine that modern women can appreciate. A capable detective who refuses to downplay her intelligence, Kate knows that many men don’t consider her their equal, but she refuses to let that stop her. She simply gets on with the job, even when Inspector Wallis makes it clear that her help is unwelcome.
While the books in the series can stand alone (I’ve read three so far), each new entry serves to enhance the characterizations in the previous volumes. In Death of an Avid Reader, Kate’s WWI nursing experience comes to the forefront again, and she – and the reader – gets to learn more about Mrs. Sugden, her longtime housekeeper.
The story sprawls a bit early on, but Kate’s dry humor keeps her narrative sharp and lively, and, as always with this series, the sense of place and period remain strong. I admit to being fooled about how the investigations would resolve, but this is a good thing in my view, and I look forward to seeing how Kate's relationship with Inspector Wallis develops.
Death of an Avid Reader was published by Minotaur in September ($25.99/C$36.99, hardback, 360pp). Thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC. For reviews of earlier books in the series, see Murder in the Afternoon and Murder on a Summer's Day.