Murder on a Summer’s Day by Frances Brody

The fifth in the Kate Shackleton Mystery series, Murder on a Summer’s Day offers an evocative picture of both post-WWI England and the splendor of the Raj.

Professional female detectives are rare, but this one has made enough of a name for herself that she is brought onto the scene at Bolton Abbey when an errant Maharaja goes missing in Cornwall while making plans to take a beautiful chorus girl as his second wife. It is a potential scandal that the India Office, the Duke of Devonshire, and the government wish handled with discretion. What better person to locate the missing Maharaja and defuse a delicate situation than the distinctly upper class young widow of a war hero.

Unfortunately, Kate finds the vital young Prince after he has been murdered. The India Office and government (both local and Empire) seem bent on hushing it up and calling it a tragic accident. The parade of Indian royalty, the pomp and circumstance,  class distinctions, the excitement of political intrigue, and a missing priceless jewel are all here. Even the hint of a future romance between Kate and a local doctor (and I mean only a hint).

Two cultures are well researched and accurately portrayed. Several historical characters appear, the inspiration for the unsuitable lover was the real-life Folies Bergère dancer Stella Mudge. But somehow the story is not as exciting a romp as I would expect. The plot is full of twists and turns and imminent threat, but even the cobra placed in Kate’s room does not cover the somewhat scattered and disjointed plotlines. The big payoff never seems to come. The villain is insufficiently punished for two murders and multiple attempts, the jewel disappears into a vague Swiss bank, and the only real romance is at third-hand. It is all a little too formal and proper. Personally, I much prefer the impish misadventures of Lady Georgiana in Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series. It is equally well researched, but a lot more fun. But then I prefer a little humor mixed into my murder and mayhem.

Sometimes a series is extended a little beyond its natural virtues or takes a dip in the middle. Before discounting this successful series, I would recommend going back and checking out one of the early books, such as Dying in the Wool, A Medal for Murder, Murder in the Afternoon, or A Woman Unknown (shortlisted for the MWA Mary Higgins Clark award).

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