London, 1929, and a late night train arrives in London, delivering its precious cargo of rhubarb from Yorkshire. A sole porter is tasked with unloading it, only to discover… oh, you’ve noticed the title. Yes, hidden on the train is a man’s body, stripped of all identification.
Scotland Yard have trouble making progress, so they summon private detective Kate Shackleton to investigate. Perhaps her local knowledge can uncover what they couldn’t. But when Kate begins to look into things, she finds that another murder occurred near the Yorkshire coalfields at roughly the same time. Assuming the crimes are linked, Kate begins to make progress, but it seems that the killer is determined to stop her interference – permanently.
“The series is right up there with Miss Marple” – The Sunday Sport
Not sure what’s happening to the authors that I like. One of them was recently endorsed by George Galloway (cat-impersonator and politician of dubious reputation) and now this one has been praised by the literary reviewer of The Sunday Sport, a UK tabloid that is still being published apparently – today’s issue covers such important issues as Denis Waterman and Jimmy Nail getting into a fight over the best TV theme tune and a zookeeper who lost a hand trying to “w*nk off a lion”. And probably loads of scantily-dressed young ladies. Apparently they review books – who knew? On a more speculative note – if you are in a bookshop and you see a quote like that from the Sunday Sport – wouldn’t that make you less likely to read the book?
Sorry, I digress. First of all, Miss Marple? Sorry, there’s only one female sleuth who comes close to that standard and that’s Miss Marple herself. All the rest are in orbit around her. That doesn’t mean they’re not good, just that dear old Jane is the best by some distance.
Sorry, digressing again. Let’s take a look at this one without the comparisons.
I think fans of pure mysteries may well be a bit disappointed by this entry in the series. It is very difficult to write an unknown victim mystery, as you have to still focus the investigation in a constructive way. The choice of putting a second murder that is presumably linked helps to give it a focus, but it felt at times as if the case that the book is named after could have done with a little more attention at times.
But the investigation isn’t the main draw of Frances’ books. What sets her tales apart from the others in the “emancipated-between-the-wars-female-sleuth” genre (why hasn’t that phrase caught on yet?) is the description of daily life in the working classes in Yorkshire. The historical colour is the primary draw with the mystery being almost a secondary strand – I guessed the killer quite early on. Fans of the series will know to expect this and will, as ever, find much to enjoy here. And yes, Sergeant Dog does make a substantial appearance.
It’s not a book that will appeal to my readers who are after a complex clued puzzle-plot of a mystery – see my next review for that one – but if you’re a fan of twentieth century historicals or just want a bit of a change, why not take a look.
Many thanks to Frances and Piatkus for the review copy. It is out now in the UK and will be released in the US on November 12th 2019.