This is the eleventh Kate Shackleton crime novel and the year is now 1929. The country has entered the post-National Strike recession years and as a general election approaches it is being suggested that Russian gold is being smuggled to the Unions (Coal and Transport?) to influence the vote. The novel starts with the discovery of an unidentified body on the “rhubarb delivery” train from Yorkshire to London. Because of the political sensitivities Kate is approached to act undercover with her team and quietly investigate the murder and try and identify the victim. Her task is complicated by the fact that another murder of an elderly shop mistress has taken place on the same night very close to the place where the body was put on the train. In that case, a young man, Stephen Walmsley, has been arrested and is in danger of being found guilty and hanged, much to the dismay of many local people who Kate and the team will meet.
It is decided that the body was placed on the train at a quiet station stop not far from where Kate and her family live in Yorkshire, thereby allowing the investigation to proceed with not just her usual sidekicks, her family, Mr Sykes and her housekeeper Mrs Sudgen, but others from her previous Yorkshire based novels. Kate initially visits the home of an old school friend Gertrude Brockman and her husband at Thorpefield Hall in the guise of preparing a magazine commission. As she researches/investigates she is told that the there was a collapse at the local mine and as a result of this the local Children’s Home, Bluebell House, on the estate of a neighbour Eliot Dell was rapidly closed and the children transferred elsewhere. She comes to believe the two murders are linked. That will lead eventually to motive and those responsible.
Does that sound complicated? Well, that is the nature of this novel; it is very, very busy with people, plot-lines, sub-stories, detailed explanations, local history and geography and with the core investigations running against the clock. Plus, of course, the need to maintain, build and respect the characters of the series and give an acceptable sense of period. Generally it is all well handled and is not too laboured, even with the temptation to “inform” or educate on underlying issues.
Without giving away the plot, the novel does by its nature need to come out well and tie up all the personal loose ends – assuming of course that the final resting place of the identified murderer(s) is not a major issue to the conscience. But it should be said that with the multiple layers and characters it is hard to predict who was “guilty” too early. The story runs along at pace, so overall it was a good read of its type.
Hilary White 4/4
The Body on the Train by Frances Brody
Piatkus 9780349423067 pbk Oct 2019