Dying in the Wool: colorful stuff


Exclusive interview with author Frances Brody and a review of her female detective novel

Rating: Three Stars

Reviewed by Gabrielle Pantera

“It delighted me to discover how many readers love the 1920s, as I do,” says Dying in the Wool author Frances Brody. “The art deco style, the fashions and the dances. This is the book that turned me into a crime writer. In a flash, I saw a man behind a high wall and a locked gate. Someone had to find out what was going on. Sleuth Kate Shackleton sprang to life, smart, tenacious and intrepid.”

Dying in the Wool is first in a new series by Frances Brody. This female sleuth novel is set in Yorkshire post-WWI. If you enjoy female detective novels by authors like Hannah Dennison, Rhys Bowen, Catriona McPherson and Carola Dunn, you’ll want to read Frances Brody too.

Kate Shackleton is an amateur sleuth turning professional with her first paying case. Accustomed to helping women find missing fathers, sons and husbands, Kate needs a paying case because her husband was lost fighting in WWI. The mystery of her missing husband is lightly interwoven in the story and will likely be a theme throughout the series. You’ll want to read closely to keep up with the unexpected plot twists in this story.

Kate’s friend Tabitha Braithwaite asks Kate to find Joshua Braithwaite, her father who’s been missing for over six years. Tabitha doesn’t believe he’s dead and wants Kate to find him so he can walk her down the aisle. Kate learns Tabitha’s father is not the shinning example of a family man that Tabitha thinks he is. Tabitha’s mother Evelyn doesn’t seem to miss having him around. Hector, Tabitha’s fiancé, seems to know more about Tabitha’s missing father than he should. Where is Tabitha’s father…. dead or hiding?

To make the imaginary village of Bridgestead seem authentic, Brody based her setting on the English town of Cottingley. In 1917, young Elsie Griffiths and Frances Wright created photographs of fairies near the stream Cottingley beck. “They fooled all sorts of people, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who makes a fleeting appearance in Dying in the Wool,” says Brody.

Before the First World War, Germans had all the expertise in dyeing. “When they left Britain in 1914, we had a lot of catching up to do,” says Brody. “I tried my hand at weaving, and talked to experts in textiles and dyeing. A district of Bradford is called Little Germany.”

Brody says she loved visiting Cottingley and doing research. “The Industrial Museum in Bradford has a collection of documents that give a flavour of life in the mills. We have family albums with a hundred years of photographs, and an old family friend is a dead ringer for Kate. For more detailed stuff on photography, I went to the archive at the National Media Museum. The local library was my source for contemporary newspaper accounts.”

“There is a character in the book who feels cheated by the master of the mill out of returns on his invention,” says Brody. “One elderly reader told me that exactly the same thing happened to her uncle. She was glad I had written about it.”

One of Brody’s sagas, Somewhere Behind the Morning, written as Frances McNeil, won the HarperCollins Elizabeth Elgin Award for the most regionally evocative saga of the millennium.

Brody lives in Leeds, in Yorkshire, the largest county in England and home of the Brontes. “If you have seen Calendar Girls, Heartbeat or Last of the Summer Wine, you will know what a beautiful place Yorkshire is,” says Brody.

In May, Brody will be at the Bristol CrimeFest. In August she’ll be at the Annual Mystery & Crime Weekend at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford.

Dying in the Wool by Frances Brody. Hardcover, 368 pages, Publisher: Minotaur Books (February 14, 2012). Language: English, ISBN: 9780312622398 $24.99