Puzzle Me, Puzzle You

Death in the DalesMy 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.

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