Last summer, when I read A Woman Unknown (reviewed here), I vowed to go back and discover the Kate Shackleton mysteries from the beginning. Dying in the Wool is the first in the series, serving as a good introduction to Kate as well as being a very intriguing mystery that kept me guessing.
Kate has done some investigative work in the past, for families who want conclusive answers on why their men didn't come back from the Great War. The job offered to her by old friend Tabitha Braithwaite is the first where she accepts remuneration for her work and takes on an ex-policeman, Jim Sykes as her partner. Tabitha wants to know whether her father, who disappeared in 1916, is alive or dead as she's getting married and wants him to be present. Kate begins her investigations, finding most of the people she needs to talk to quietly uncooperative, but there are a few chinks in the village's armour and, as she finds them, the situation begins to unravel, though not without a few casualties along the way.
There's a little bit of scene-setting towards the beginning of the book, introducing Kate's father, housekeeper and general background. For the most part, it slots well into the narrative of Tabitha's request and, if this is indeed the first Kate Shackleton mystery you've read, then it's very useful information. I liked the characterisation of Kate in this first book, especially the way her investigative abilities and love of photography intersect and occasionally collide.
The pace of this works quite well. It's a cosy mystery with a few grisly moments and some sharp writing. I liked the fact that not everything was neatly tied up in a bow at the end and appreciated the characterisation of a few of the more odious villagers. They came across as distinctive, always a difficulty in this type of novel. There was also a delicious scene where Kate meets up with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I'll leave you with one of her thoughts about him:
'I needed to divert Sir Arthur from his other-world views if there was to be an earthly chance of his talking sense.'