Death and the Brewery Queen (Kate Shackleton Mysteries) by Frances Brody

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Death and the Brewery Queen (Kate Shackleton Mysteries) by Frances Brody

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Category: Crime (Historical)
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: It's the twelfth Kate Shackleton mystery and they're still as fresh and clever as ever. It's a cracking-good story which I got through far too quickly. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: October 2020
Publisher: Piatkus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0349423081

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Kate Shackleton runs her investigation agency from Batswing Cottage, ably assisted by Jim Sykes, who lives in Woodhouse and her housekeeper, Mrs Sugden. She's been approached by William Lofthouse of the Barleycorn Brewery in Masham. Something is going wrong with his business and he'd like Kate to look into it discreetly: he's hoping that his nephew and right-hand man, James Lofthouse, will be back from a trip to Germany before long. James went to see what the continental brewers were doing and what changes Barleycorn might need to make. William is worried that James is perhaps enjoying himself a little bit too much or is going to bring back a German bride but he'd like the business to be ship-shape before his nephew returns.

If William had but realised it, most of the answers were there - in the shape of his secretary, Miss Crawford, who knew exactly what was going on in the business. Something that William knows a bit (but not yet everything) about is the Brewery Queen. Many industries from the thirties through to the eighties used attractive young women as ambassadors and nineteen-year-old Ruth Parnaby has just won the North Yorkshire heat. Next will be the Yorkshire contest, which William hopes Ruth will lose as the contest is taking her away from her work in the wages department. He doesn't yet know that Ruth has been promised six-months leave-of-absence and that there will be expenses to meet.

When Jim Sykes has a good look at the books, he turns up some minor fiddles. Joe Finch, the drayman, is using some of the brewery's fodder to feed his own Shetland pony and on one of his rounds, a firkin of Nut Brown Ale is regularly going astray. It seems, too, that Joe is regularly letting a family onto the brewery premises each evening so that they can sleep there. There's worse to come though: the samples of the brewery's new ale have been tampered with and are beyond redemption. Then there's the first death, caused by a hit and run. The evidence suggests that it was deliberate.

I was going to read most of this book at the weekend but here I am, writing the review up on Saturday morning. I was hooked by the story before I got to the bottom of the first page and resented any time I had to spend away from the book until I finished it. Part of this is that I do know the territory exceptionally well and there's a real pleasure in walking the streets alongside the characters but even if you don't know the lie of the land you'll find that it's brought brilliantly to life.

We know a few of the characters already, but even if you've never read a Kate Shackleton mystery before the characters will come off the page for you. There's enough of the backstory that new readers won't feel adrift but not so much that long-standing readers get bored and wonder why they bought the book. The characters which are new in the story are great: the elderly brewery owner and his young, second wife, who's pregnant, the brewery workers and their families and the villagers of Masham. There's good background on the brewing process, along with the dangers it presents and the perks of free beer. I loved the shire horses!

You'd like to know about the plot, though, wouldn't you? Well, it's a cracker. I knew exactly who the wrong 'un was: unfortunately, it turned out to be somebody completely different and I didn't guess it until the solution was laid out in front of me. All the clues were there. It was a great read and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

You can read this book as a standalone but you might get more out of the series if you read them in order.

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