My Mom handed me my first Nancy Drew mystery when I eleven or twelve. I was immediately hooked and devoured all of the “kid” mysteries that were published by the Stratemeyer Syndicate at the time. (In addition to Nancy Drew, these included the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins among others.)
In a way, these types of books are akin to the Harry Potter series, fast reads with zigzagging plot lines that encouraged reading among the younger set.
In addition to pulling me into the world of books (from which I have yet to emerge), the Nancy Drew books introduced me to the mystery novel, and even more specifically, the subset of that genre known at the “cozy.”
To the uninitiated, it may seem strange to call novels that center around murder “cozies” but within the genre, the term is used to describe the degree of explicitness in a particular novel. In a cozy, death happens off stage, and usually to a character that nobody (including the reader) likes at all. Sex is conducted discreetly, behind (literally) closed doors, and profane language is pretty much non-existent.
In a cozy, the puzzle and the main character are front and center.
Over the years, I’ve come to call this type of novel my “schlocky books,” a term of endearment for a book that keeps me mentally engaged while not demanding too much of me emotionally. In other words, perfect to read in that twenty minutes before you fall asleep at night or on a bus or in the dentist’s office.
Which brings me around to author Frances Brody’s series of novels featuring a woman named Kate Shackleton.
Brody is British, and her books take place near her hometown of Leeds in the years following World War I. This era, long neglected by genre fiction writers, has become prime real estate in the past few years with books by Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, and others.
Brody has had a long writing career, mostly in radio, and it shows in her prose—clean and to the point. This book, A Death in the Dales, is the second novel of hers that I’ve read, the first being Death of an Avid Reader. (Yep, I was suckered in by the title.)
I was unsure, at first, whether these books were going to hold their own, mostly because the writing was deceptively simple, and I wondered if they would turn out to be too American in flavor (which I define as all plot, no character, and all boring).
I was pleasantly surprised, however, and found myself wanting to read a second as soon as I had finished the first, mostly because her minor characters are interesting, her murder victims are not stereotypes, she maintains more than one story line at a time, and her plots twist just enough to keep me guessing.
Brody mixes in interesting bits of history about Leeds, a city that she clearly loves, and I find them a good place to get lost in for the twenty minutes before I fall asleep.
Thought you might too.
Today, we reach the conclusion of this part of Carding’s town meeting saga.
Dismayed by G.G. Dieppe’s starchy disdain at her first meeting of the Carding Quilt Guild, newcomer Brenda Underwood is in the midst of a strategic retreat when she takes a wrong turn…and ends up in the right conversation with Reverend Gordon Lloyd, pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
This chance meeting could have meaningful ramifications, not just for Brenda but for the whole town of Carding.
You can catch up on parts 1,2 and 3 of “Sew and Sew” right here, if you so desire.
Glad you could stop by. It’s good to see you.
Brenda Underwood is one of those New Englanders who left church-going in the past long ago. So she was surprised to discover that the balm of sanctuary still held a place in her heart.
Or soul, as Reverend Lloyd might have put it.
She found it soothing to sit in the almost-dark of St. John’s Episcopal Church with the priest, quietly discussing her recent move to Carding, her doubts about living on a golf course, and her disappointment in the tenor of the Carding Quilt Guild meeting, from which she was hiding.
For his part, Gordon Lloyd did what he did best. He listened to the mood of Brenda’s confidences, doing his best to discern the woman among the words.
She was intelligent. Of that he had no doubt. Brenda’s language sparkled with precision, revealing a mind that revered both logic and emotion. She understood the crux of her dilemma and appreciated the trauma that her move from her beloved Boston to this tiny town in Vermont represented.
“Is the whole town like that?” she asked, nodding her head toward the community hall where the guild was meeting.
Gordon pressed his lips together, thinking fast. Somehow, he sensed that this woman—a stranger until this evening—might represent a way to get out from under the gloom that accompanied G.G. Dieppe wherever she went.
“I am happy to answer your question but first allow me to ask you one,” he said.
“You just met Mrs. Dieppe this evening, am I right?”
“Would you be so kind as to describe how you see her?” Gordon asked.
Now it was Brenda’s turn to assess the priest. “Let me guess, she’s a relatively new member of this congregation, right?”
“And you’ve noticed a change since she arrived?”
One corner of Gordon’s mouth curved up in a smile. “Yes, quite a change.”
Brenda nodded. “It’s good to know that things were different before she came here. That’s hopeful.”
Gordon shifted around in his seat, mindful that the cushions in the choir loft where they sat really needed to be replaced if only to preserve the sanctity of his backside. “I’m not a quilter. The closest I come to a craft is writing my sermons for Sunday. But there are a lot of makers in Carding—they’re a big part of the town’s heritage—so I have a familiarity with fabric and color and how blocks are put together. So tell me, if G.G. Dieppe was a house block, what color would it be?”
Brenda’s whole face snapped-to with surprise and she blinked at the priest. “Well, two colors, actually. Black and white.”
Gordon nodded. “I thought you might say that. Come with me for a moment. I want to show you something that I think will answer your question about what the town of Carding is like away from the golf course and people such as G.G. Dieppe.”
He hopped down from the loft, and switched on a light that revealed a short hallway. “Edie’s not a member of my congregation though she does attend from time to time. But we are friends. In fact, she was one of the first people I met when I came here. She once told me that I need more color in my life, especially at this time of year when everything is…black and white. So from time to time, she shows up at my door with what she calls ‘a color thing.’
He pointed to a small wallhanging. “This is her latest, and I think if Edie Wolfe was a house block, this is what she would look like.”
Brenda gasped and then began to laugh. Edie’s house was anything but black and white. Its roof was an electric pink fabric festooned with vivid leaves. Its windows were lime green with yellow bubbles. Hot red and green stripes erupted from a blue chimney, and the grass growing by the front door was a moving sea of phosphorescent hues.
“Do you like it?” Gordon asked.
“I do. And I want to meet the woman who made it.”
“Her house in on the green, opposite the Crow Town Bakery, which is owned by her daughter and son-in-law, by the way,” Gordon said. “But the best place to find Edie during the day is at the Carding Academy.”
Suddenly they heard meeting-breaking-up noises coming from the community hall. Brenda turned to the priest, and shook his hand. “Thank you. I think I’m going to duck out now but I am going to follow your suggestion.”
“Good. Let me walk you to the door.” Gordon’s smile was a bit bigger now. “There’s one more thing I think you should know.”
“Mrs. Dieppe is running for the open seat on the Carding select board, and some of her plans for the town are, shall we say, quite controversial. Edie is opposed to all of them.” Gordon swung the side door open, and Brenda realized she could get to her car before any of the other guild members emerged from the building.
“Really?” Brenda’s voice and eyebrows rose as she pulled on her gloves. “It sounds like this could be interesting.”
You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Light in Water, Dancing, will go on sale on May 18, 2018. And yes, it will be available from Amazon.com
You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.
The build-up to Carding’s town meeting, like all town meetings, is an accretion of small details.
This year, a joke about the cold made to an unappreciative recipient sparked a contest for the open seat on the town’s select board that is turning out to be very controversial.
Right now, that unappreciative recipient, G.G. Dieppe, feels she has the whole town—or at least the part of it that counts with her—in the palm of her hand.
But a chance meeting at St. John’s Episcopal Church (another one of those small details) may be the key to turning the tide.
Here’s a sample of tomorrow’s Carding Chronicle. I sure hope you can stop by.