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Murder In The Afternoon

Murder In The Afternoon, February 2014
A Kate Shackleton Mystery #3
by Frances Brody

Minotaur Books
Featuring: Kate Shackleton
400 pages
ISBN: 1250037026
EAN: 9781250037022
Kindle: B00EGJAZZG
Hardcover / e-Book
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"Kate Shackelton Faces More Than Murder."

Fresh Fiction Review

Murder In The Afternoon
Frances Brody

Reviewed by Leanne Davis
Posted June 20, 2014

Mystery Cozy

Something strange is going on at the quarry. Austin and his sister, Harriet search for their dad. When they find him, he is lying dead on the ground of the hut in which he was working. Yet, when the police arrive, the body is nowhere to be found.

Mary Jane has come to Kate for help, not just because of Kate's skill, but because there is a relationship there that Kate knows nothing about. Ethan was a talented mason and with the job came a house and the respect of many of the men who worked there. With his disappearance, Mary Jane and her children may soon find themselves without a home. Ethan was also pushing for a union, a fact which didn't make him popular with management.

There are too many disparate facts out there so Kate will call on Jim Sykes for his help again. With Jim, focusing on the quarry, Kate can deal with other aspects of the case. When others start turning up dead, Kate sees that this goes beyond just a family squabble. There are more people involved than just those in the quarry. Kate and Jim will have to weave together the threads and resolve the questions as they search for Ethan's killer. Danger comes in unexpected forms as they draw ever closer to the identity of the killer.

Frances Brody has written a compelling book, which will keep the reader guessing as the facts of the case in MURDER IN THE AFTERNOON are pulled together. Her characters are interesting and complex. I look forward to more from Frances Brody and the Kate Shackleton Mystery series.

Learn more about Murder In The Afternoon

SUMMARY

An intricate plot in the post-WWI English countryside and Frances Brody's "refreshingly complex heroine" (Kirkus) combine in Murder in the Afternoon, an absorbing mystery perfect for fans of Jacqueline Winspear and Agatha Christie.

Dead one minute...

Young Harriet and her brother Austin have always been scared of the quarry where their stone mason father works. So when they find him dead on the cold ground, they rush off quickly to look for some help.

Alive the next?

When help arrives, however, the quarry is deserted and there is no sign of the body. Were the children mistaken? Is their father not dead? Did he simply get up and run away?

A sinister disappearing act.

It seems like another unusual case requiring the expertise of Kate Shackleton--and Mary Jane, the children's mother, is adamant that only she can help. But Mary Jane is hiding something--a secret from Kate's past that raises the stakes and puts both Kate and her family at risk.

Excerpt

SATURDAY 12 MAY, 1923

Great Applewick

Solomon Grundy,

Born on a Monday,

Christened on Tuesday,

Married on Wednesday,

Took ill on Thursday,

Grew worse on Friday,

Died on Saturday,

Buried on Sunday.

That was the end of Solomon Grundy.

(Old Rhyme)

PROLOGUE

Harriet held the cloth-covered basin in her thin hands, feeling the warmth. She and Austin trod the well-worn path from their long strip of back garden on Nether End.

Mam wasn’t home. She’d hurried off to Town Street, to buy the Woodbines that Harriet accidentally on purpose forgot when she and Austin went to do the Saturday shop. Mam wanted a new house. She was sick to death of living in the back of beyond’s backside.

The path led through a meadow of primroses, buttercups and daisies. Far off, the church clock struck five.

Austin puffed at a dandelion clock. ‘It doesn’t work. This dandelion says three o’clock.’

Harriet, never short of an answer, sighed at his babyish ideas. ‘Dandelion clocks have Saturday afternoons off. They belong to the dandelion clock union.’

He always believed her, believed her every word.

‘Why is Dad still at work?’

‘He has a special job to finish.’

‘The sundial?’

‘Yes.’

When they reached the stile Harriet handed him the basin, till she got to the top. He passed it back to her and she climbed down. Some of Conroys’ sheep grazed here with their new lambs. One of the sheep would let you pat her, because she was hand reared, and called Mary; but Mary ignored them today, busy with her lamb. In her composition at school, Harriet had written, “Autumn is my favourite season”. But perhaps it should be spring, or summer, or even winter.

When they were halfway across the field, a dark cloud covered the sun, turning the world to gloom. A thrush made a fuss in the hawthorn bush, complaining about the dust that turned leaves white.

From here, you could smell the quarry – stone and dust. There would be no one working, except Dad. At this time on a Saturday, no blasting would hurt your ears. No crushing machine would puff itself up, ready to swallow kids and grind their bones. Austin dragged his feet.

‘Can you do this?’ She clicked her tongue to make the sound of a clop clopping horse.

He tried.

In silence, blown by the east wind, they slip sloped to the quarry mouth. The quarry grew and grew, like an inside out monster, bigger and bigger – hungry jaws ready to snap you up and turn you to stone. Keep out! The sign said.

The ground dipped and rose, puddles here, rocks there. On the far steep slope, a tree clung hopelessly to the side of the blasted rock. Next to it was a new mountain of fallen stone.

They walked the rough path passing foreman’s hut and big wagon that blocked the view when you were close enough. Beyond came emptiness, the dark shapes of huts and the far slopes.

The first drop of rain fell.

Shielded by the wagon, Harriet put her fingers to her lips and whistled, one long whistle, one short – their signal. If Dad heard her, they would not need to pass the empty sheds where goblins played hide and seek.

No whistle answered hers, only an echo.

‘I don’t like it.’ Austin clutched her arm with his small, fierce hand. ‘Whistle him again.’

She whistled.

On a weekday, or Saturday morning, there would be quarrymen with big voices, to yell to Ethan that his bairns were here.

No reply. When Dad worked, he shut out the world. He heard nothing and no one. So Mam said.

‘Whistle louder,’ Austin whined.

‘Don’t be scared. The goblins aren’t here.’

‘Where are they?’

‘They go to Yeadon on Saturdays. Come on.’

The sloping, bumpy ground turned walking into a half run, eyes down, not looking at the crushing shed, the towering crane, the dressing and sawing sheds. A person’s shadow grew longer in the quarry than anywhere else on earth. Pushing Austin to avoid a puddle, she stepped into one herself. Bomnation! Now her boots would be soaked through.

By Dad’s mason’s hut, the blue slate sundial shone grandly. Austin reached out and touched it. He traced the lines on the dial, placing his palms flat as if the slate would feed him a story through his skin.

Harriet put the plate of food on the sundial. ‘Wait here.’

Afterwards, she could not say why she went into the hut. First she saw his boots, toes pointing to the corrugated roof.

Why would Dad be lying down?

Her head turned strange, as if it might split from her and float off like a balloon. She could not breathe out. Quarry dust dried her mouth. Something funny went on with her knees. Her skin prickled. She remembered the time when old Mr Bowman lay in the road outside the Fleece, and the greengrocer’s horse and cart went round him.

Harriet dropped to her knees.

Dad’s hard hand felt cold. His face looked away from her. His cheek was not so cold. His hair stuck up. She did what she sometimes did: combed her fingers through his hair, smoothing it. Some wetness from the hair came onto her hand. His scalp and hair smelled the same but different. She picked up his cap but it did not want to go back on his head, as if it had taken a dislike to him, no longer recognised him. She set Dad’s cap down on the bench, but it slipped.

From a long way off, she heard Austin making little sounds of fright. Harriet shoved herself to her feet, pushing against the bench to help her stand.

Hurrying to her brother, she pulled him close.

‘What’s the matter?’ he asked, in a weepy little voice.

She said. ‘Just … Come on …’

‘No!’

She placed her hands firmly at the top of his arms and turned him around, to point him homewards. He would not or could not budge.

‘Shut your eyes, Austin. Shut your eyes tight and I’ll lead you through dreamland.’

He did as he was bid, letting himself be spun round and round into dreamland. She guided him over bumps and hollows, telling him about the gingerbread house to his left, all trimmed with barley sugar. No it wasn’t raining. The fairy fountain spurted dandelion and burdock.

And she told herself that the dampness on her hand was raspberry sherbet, not blood.

But a country child knows a dead thing when she sees it.

MONDAY

Pipistrelle Lodge, Headingley

Time goes by turns,

And chances change by course,

From foul to fair

From better hap to worse

Robert Southwell

ONE

The railway carriage lurched, flinging me forward. Bolts of lightning struck as the carriage toppled. Gasping, I grabbed for something to hold onto. The screech of brakes jerked me awake. I opened my eyes to find myself in bed, the journey from Kings Cross to Leeds completed hours ago, and safely.

What woke me was the persistent, loud knocking at my front door. Since my room is at the back of the house, overlooking the wood, whoever summoned me from slumber hammered the knocker as if to tell me the house was on fire.

The clock on my bedside table said four o’clock. Sookie had made a pillow of my dressing gown and did not take kindly to having it pulled from under her; an unseemly intrusion for a cat in her delicate condition.

At the bottom of the stairs, I stubbed my toe on the portmanteau, dumped there last night by the taxi driver. I flicked on the light switch.

Turning the key in the lock and opening the door, I peered into the gloom, expecting some messenger of doom.

A woman, wearing cape and hood, stood in the shadow of the porch.

‘Mrs Shackleton?’ Her voice was slightly breathless, as though she were nervous or had been hurrying.

What sort of mad woman rushes out in the middle of the night and runs through the streets in the pouring rain?

‘Yes. I’m Mrs Shackleton.’

‘I must to talk to you.’

When I did not straightaway open the door wider, she added, ‘My husband’s gone missing.’

I felt groggy with tiredness. ‘You best go to the police.’

They would have detectives on night duty.

Her snort, part laugh, part groan, dismissed my suggestion before she spoke. ‘The police? I’ve tried. They’re neither use nor ornament.’

She seemed unaware of the time and offered no apology for disturbing me. A north wind howled down the street, driving horizontal bullets of rain.

Imagining that a person intent on foul play would not hammer the door knocker loudly enough to wake half Headingley, I fumbled to undo the latch chain. As the light from the hall fell on her face, she looked very young, and pale as the moon.

Without waiting for an invitation, the woman stepped inside, dripping rain onto the mat.

I shut the door behind her. ‘Let me take your cape.’

She unhooked and shook off a dark plaid cape, creating a pool of water on the polished wood floor.

‘Thank you.’ Her lips were pale but two unnaturally bright spots of pink lit her cheeks. Perhaps she suffered from consumption. The pulses in her throat throbbed.

‘I left my umbrella on the train. I caught the milk train. I’ve run from Headingley station.’

I hung the cape on the newel post, again stubbing my toe on the suitcase.

‘You’d better come through, Mrs …’

‘Armstrong. Mary Jane Armstrong.’

The dining room doubles as my office but no fire had been lit in there for a week, since before I left for London. I led her through to the kitchen. ‘This way. The fire will be out, but we’ll be warmer in here.’ She followed me. I handed her a towel. ‘Dry yourself a little.’ She moved like someone who had walked out of the sea and would shortly return to Neptune.

‘I don’t care about being wet.’ But she rubbed at her hair which fell in damp wavy strands below her ears. Her hooded cape had provided little protection from the deluge.

She was in her mid or late thirties, about five foot four, plump and pretty with unblemished white skin and abundant hazel nut brown hair, swept up and caught with tortoiseshell combs and pins. It looked as though it may have started out neat but now wavy tendrils escaped the combs. Strands of hair hung below her shoulders where the pins had fallen out. She wore a calf length bottle green skirt and white blouse, with a locket at her throat. Her shoes were so well polished that the rain slid off the leather.

I drew out a chair, leaving her to recover for a moment, while I went into the dining room.

Who was she, and what brought her here at this hour? Something about her seemed so very familiar. She reminded me of someone, and I couldn’t think who.

I lifted the decanter from the sideboard, along with a brandy balloon. At the kitchen table, I poured brandy into the glass. ‘Here. Drink this. You look as if you need it, and then you can tell me what brings you here.’

She cupped the glass in both hands and stared intently into it, as if the amber liquor created a crystal ball and the future would become startlingly clear. Then she looked at me from eyes that were the same hazelnut brown as her hair. There was intensity in her gaze, as though what she did not find in the brandy balloon, she would see in my eyes.

Where did I know her from?

The impression fled as she screwed her eyes tightly, sniffed at the brandy, and knocked it back in one quick gulp. She coughed and began to choke, saying between splutters. ‘Eh, I thought it were ginger ale. What is it? Right burns my throat.’

‘Brandy. It’s brandy.’

‘You should’ve said. I’ll have another and take it more steady.’

I lifted the decanter and poured another finger of brandy. ‘Sip it. Gently does it.’ I had come back from London feeling a little tired, but now the tiredness fled. I said encouragingly, ‘You’d better tell me what brings you here.’

She squeezed the glass so tightly it was in danger of cracking. ‘Like I said, my husband’s gone missing.’ Mrs Armstrong spoke in a flat, tired voice. ‘I don’t know whether he’s alive or dead. I thought of you because … well I’ve heard that you find people.’


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