It’s the second review in preparation of the CWA event organised by Formby Books, my local independent bookseller. I don’t think I’ll have time to finish and review The Devil’s Edge by Stephen Booth – only about a third of the way through at the moment – before the event on 5th July – sorry, but two out of three isn’t bad on short notice.
It’s the early twenties and England is still in the shadow of the Great War. Kate Shackleton, a Yorkshire girl and war widow – possibly – is spending her time tracking down people missing due to the war. She is hired by the daughter of a local mill owner to find her missing father. Only this man vanished in the middle of the war from a Yorkshire village after an apparent suicide attempt. Taking on the task of finding the missing man, she may have taken on too much – as needless to say, once she starts poking around, people start dying. Someone it seems wants to keep the mystery of Joshua Braithwaite’s disappearance exactly that – a mystery…
The obvious comparison to make is, I suppose, the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries. They’re set in roughly the same period with a female protagonist, but, to be honest, the similarities end there. The Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, at least the ones that I’ve read, have been lacking something. Even Anthem For Doomed Youth, which also dealt with the aftermath of the war, seemed somewhat unreal. And, for want of a better word, fluffy. The isn’t the case here, despite the cover design and font, which seems to be designed to attract the female reader rather than the male one. It’s a marketing decision, but it’s a shame as this is a decent read that I’d hate to see half of the reading population pass up.
NOTE: I’ve run into a bit of confusion when I’ve used the phrase “a decent read” before. In my colloquialisms, that means it’s good. I’ve been trying not to use it, but can’t be bothered to change it. Of course, it would have been quicker to change it rather than write this, but I’ve written this now…
So, this book. Not remotely fluffy at all, but not messy either. Kate narrates the majority of the book, pausing only to flash back in time to see the events of Braithwaite’s disappearance from a few different characters. Kate is an interesting character, using her sleuthing to distract her from her missing-presumed-dead husband who she hasn’t given up on. Frances Brody does a good job with her character, especially how she pursues her investigation. She’s no Poirot-esque supersleuth, just a talented amateur putting things together and following hunches.
She gains a sidekick and a cat (hurrah) along the way and needless to say, finds the truth. You might expect this to mean that she sorts everything out, but the ending feels quite… real. It’s satisfying, but not everything is as sorted as you might expect from the cover.
There are a few problems. On a personal level, I’ve been on too many school trips to mills and dozed off a bit when it got a bit technical – a rare occurrence I should say. There’s also an unexpected cameo from a writer from the day which seemed out of place, apart to emphasise Kate’s upbringing in contrast to her chosen career.
Oh, haven’t mentioned the mystery element. Not bad, with some surprises. Not sure how well clued it was, but it’s a decent read and as such I wasn’t too fussed about that.
Anyway, overall, it’s a good read. One of those that since finishing it, I’m more impressed by it in hindsight and wished I’d maybe given it my fuller attention when reading it – maybe I rushed it a bit when trying (and failing) to get through all three books for the event. But I’ll certainly be buying the next in the series to get it signed by the author and it’ll be going to the top of my TBR pile. I think I’m going to enjoy getting to know Kate Shackleton. Recommended.