Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"A Woman Unknown"

Frances Brody lives in the North of England, where she was born and grew up. Brody started her writing life in radio, with many plays and short stories broadcast by the BBC. She has also written for television and theatre. A Woman Unknown is the fourth book in her 1920s series featuring Kate Shackleton, First World War widow turned sleuth, published by Minotaur Books. Murder in the Afternoon, third in the series, was named a Library Journal Best Mystery 2014.

Brody applied the Page 69 Test to A Woman Unknown, and reported the following:
On page 69 of A Woman Unknown, Kate Shackleton arrives at Kirkley Hall to visit Philippa, the American heiress widow of Everett Runcie, banker and member of the British aristocracy. Kate last saw Everett and Philippa at York races. There, Everett blatantly paid more attention to his mistress than to his wife. He was later found dead in a hotel room, after spending the night with “a woman unknown” in order to give his wife grounds for divorce.

Through Kate’s eyes, we see the ancestral home where the Runcies lived when not in London. The house and grounds reflect not just Everett Runcie’s decline and fall but the changes that have taken place across the years. The house was built at the height of Empire when Britain was a pre-eminent trading, and looting, nation. During the 1914-18 war, the building was used as a hospital. Thanks to Philippa and her deep coffers, it has been beautifully restored. Kate waits in the drawing room, uncertain whether Philippa will see her.
It is a Georgian building, on land that once belonged to the monks of Kirkstall Abbey. The Runcie family acquired the property a century ago, and made extensive alterations when they were in the money. Little by little, with the ebb and flow of fortunes, they sold off the adjacent farmland. Even so, extensive grounds still surrounded the house. It was said that the magnificent beech trees had been planted to represent the layout of troops at the Battle of Waterloo. Wellington himself held pride of place, in the shape of an oak tree. Over a hundred years on from planting, the beech tree troops, officers and men, threatened to dwarf the old oak leader, Wellington.

Emerging from the cover of the trees, I approached the house. Pillars framed the entrance, and on either side of the pillars stood plinths that held two magnificent Chinese lanterns, looted at the time of the Boxer Rebellion.

I lifted and dropped the heavy knocker. After a moment, the butler appeared. He remembered me from this summer’s garden party, and ushered me into the panelled drawing room, all gold leaf and brocade-covered furniture. I stood by the bay window, looking out onto the garden, waiting to receive a message thanking me for my call and saying that Mrs Runcie was indisposed.
Learn more about the book and author at Frances Brody's website.

The Page 69 Test: Dying in the Wool.

Writers Read: Frances Brody.

--Marshal Zeringue