Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody is the eighth book in the Kate Shackleton Mystery series—an intricate, absorbing plot that captures the atmosphere and language of 1920s England.
Private investigator Kate Shackleton is taking a well-deserved holiday at the coastal village of Whitby. She’s going to reconnect with a very old friend from school, spend some time with her teenaged goddaughter Felicity (the daughter of said old friend), take long walks along the beach, and read a few books in the comfortable library at the Royal Hotel.
That was the plan anyway—right up to the moment she walks into the jeweler’s shop and finds the man dead on the floor.
Never had I been so glad to see a police station. Yet one of those moments of uncertainty came over me. Had I really just walked into a shop and found a body? Why me? Why today? A black and white dress was a perfectly satisfactory gift without my having to add a bracelet. I needn’t have stepped across the threshold of J Philips, High Class Jeweler. For all I knew, Felicity wouldn’t want a bracelet. Bracelets could be annoying. Did you push it up your arm or let it dangle? I tried to picture the bracelet, so that I would not have to see the man, with his neat attire, his bloodied head and the paleness of his skin. How long had he lain dead? Certainly, he was as cold as any stone. But see him I did, in the glow of a long-ago afternoon, behind his counter, with his red hair and understated manner. And then in the cold light of his back room, lying so still and pale, and forever…
No sooner has Kate reported the murder before she’s whisked up into a new drama: Felicity has disappeared. The girl has apparently gone to sea in the company of a young man—to elope, to escape her mother, to find her long-absent father? A combination of all three?
Kate’s friend Alma Turner begs her for help, and in next to no time, Mrs. Shackleford is being interrogated as a suspect in the murder, braving a haunted mansion, and uncovering evidence of a smuggling ring.
Nothing is what it seems at peaceful Whitby, which is peopled with surprisingly colorful characters. Alma works as a fortune teller on the pier, believes in astral projections, and not-so-secretly hopes that her estranged older husband is dead so she can latch onto a new man. She shares the aforementioned haunted mansion with an eccentric painter by the delightfully Dickensian name of Percival Cricklethorpe, who may or may not be involved in smuggling but is most certainly A) not straight and B) fond of wearing women’s clothing.
As Kate digs deeper, she also finds Whitby is a place of secrets and hidden tragedies. While she deals with the reappearance of Inspector Marcus Charles—assigned to the jeweler’s murder by Scotland Yard—as well as a second attack by the killer, Felicity’s story unfolds at sea during a dangerous storm.
Will she live to find her missing father? Will she and her young man escape the sea only to be accused of murder?
Death at the Seaside is less about the central mystery and more about the interwoven lives of the characters. Each chapter reveals further connections between the locals, the unusual Alma, and Kate herself. It’s as much a story of the past and its mistakes, heartaches, and choices as it is the present.
Set in the wake of WWI, references abound of the soldiers lost and maimed, naval accidents, ghosts, and loss. A slightly Gothic tinge is lent to the proceedings by Alma and Cricklethorpe’s eccentricities and antique home.
“The house is very grand.”
“Felicity hates it. She blames me for bringing her to live in a haunted house.”
“And is it haunted?”
“We do have a room where you might catch a glimpse of an old lady nursing a baby.”
“Don’t tell me, there’ll be some tragic story attached.”
“Yes. The poor baby died.”
“Felicity had a gallant who kissed her cheek and made his exit where there used to be a door. He was said to be kissing his wife goodbye.”
“Did Felicity mind?”
“Not at first. Would you mind if someone kissed your cheek? The poor child thought it was her father who’d come home. She was most upset the next morning.”
“Does that ghost still visit?”
“Yes, but we’ve changed rooms. He kisses Mr. Cricklethorpe now. The story is the poor man went off to war and never came back. There’s no malice in the Bagdale ghosts, honestly. You’d be most welcome to stay.”
“You did say that and thank you, but I don’t want to impose and I’d already booked the Royal.” Thank God, I mentally added. It would be difficult enough for me to sleep at all after what I had seen today. Ghostly company was the last thing I wanted.
Despite the murder, the stormy weather, and the haunted mansion, Death at the Seaside isn’t an especially gloomy sort of story. Things move at a sprightly place—usually in the sunshine—and there are enough light dialogue and colorful asides to keep the proceedings from turning noticeably dire or heavy.
There’s a definite air of regret and loss and several sad revelations by the last page, but this isn’t a mystery that will leave you in a dark mood. As we expect by now, Kate always gets to the bottom of things in the end. And while there are some surprises to be had, nothing feels melodramatic or outside the realm of possibility.
Her intrepid crew of assistants also make significant appearances: right-hand man Jim Sykes, his cheerful wife Rosie, and hardy housekeeper Mrs. Sugden, who all prove exceedingly helpful by the climactic, satisfying reveal.
Brody has a real knack for setting a scene, and with Death at the Seaside, you can practically feel the sea spray and see the narrow stone alleys of Whitby. Even average locations like the busy newsagent’s shop are given as much character as the evocative Bagdale Manor.
The cast feels genuine and real too. There are few stereotypical sketches and plenty of well-rounded, complex people. Everyone seems equally suspicious at first, but the better Kate—and the audience—gets to know them, the harder it is to pin a finger on just one as the culprit.
Death at the Seaside is a fine addition to the Kate Shackleton series: light, well-paced, and stocked with interesting characters and exciting revelations. A near-perfect balance of detail and substance.
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Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.