Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson

Title: Two For Sorrow
Author: Nicola Upson

Genre: Fiction (Historical / British / 1930s / Mystery / Historical Figure)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Paperbacks (8/9/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked!
Did I finish?: I did, at a rather breakneck pace.
One-sentence summary: Novelist and playwright Josephine Tey explores a past crime from nearly thirty years ago while assisting in the investigation of a current murder.
Reading Challenges: British Books, Criminal Plots, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes, totally. It has the soft feel of a magazine illustration of the era and fits the chilly setting.

I'm reminded of...: Agatha Christie, Jacqueline Winspear

First line: Morning arrived, cold and frosty and defiant, as unwanted as it was inevitable.

Did... I enjoy this book despite having never read the first two novels?: YES.

Did... I immediately start Wiki-ing the heck out of all the real world connections in this novel?: YES. Upson marvelously blends history and fiction and I found the effect fascinating.

Am... I hot to find Tey's novels and her plays?: YES. Library, here I come!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow for sure -- but I think starting with the first novel is the way to go as I was slightly lost at moments.

Why did I get this book?: The setting -- 1930s London -- plus the use of a real author as a character was too irresistible!

Review: I am loathe to start a series in the middle but I just couldn't swing the first two books by the time I needed to get to this one. Fortunately, I absolutely enjoyed this book despite my ignorance of the series and the characters!

The novel fictionalizes the life of mystery novelist Josephine Tey (Tey is a pen name, but the character goes by Josephine in this series) and the novel alternates, roughly, chapters of Tey's draft account of a thirty year old crime and her present day. Upson beautifully differentiates between Tey's writing -- which is straight-forward, moving, simple -- and the narration, creating a yummy sense of story-within-a-story. There's a kind of heft to Upson's style of writing: it isn't ornate but it is decorated. Sentences are long and descriptive, heavy with baubles, and it lends a lovely kind of fussiness to the narrative that makes the story seem almost like a character itself. There were passages so fun to read I actually felt bouncy, if that makes sense, exuberant at reading them.

There's quite a cast of characters and a web of smaller mysteries that immediately hooked me (although I was lost from time to time as the characters referenced events from previous books) and I raced through this book. The mystery is grim but not gruesome, and Tey's character as a writer (rather than a detective or police officer) allowed for some sympathetic musings about the motivations of the women involved. Class differences, the shifting political landscape of the UK in the mid-1930s, and the lingering scars of WWI color the action and characters as well, and I appreciated that -- this felt more than a pat mystery series set in the '30s.

I'm going back and reading the first two books for sure, so I can be caught up in time for the fourth Tey novel (should I be so lucky). Highly recommended -- start with An Expert in Murder and work your way to this one!

Comments

  1. The 1930s are such a fascinating but under appreciated time! And it looks like this is a very atmospheric book.

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  2. This does sound like a great book, and a lot of your feelings about it have intrigued me. Very nice review! I can see my wish list growing by one!

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  3. @All: I really can't squee enough about how much I enjoyed Upson's writing style. There was so much personality in the narrative!

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  4. I so need to find this book :) It looks really good and right up my alley!

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  5. This sounds so, so good. Will keep this in mind for sure.

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  6. I only have two Maisie books left, and this series sounds like a great place to go next. I love when mystery novels incorporate those real-world connections. I'll definitely be picking up the first in this series!

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  7. @Kelly: Do, do, because it's marvelous!

    @Anna: In this series, Tey lost a lover in WWI (Somme, I believe) and she and the vets she know skim over and avoid talking about the war. But it's always there, in the background, in a way that felt v authentic to me. I quite liked it.

    @Carrie: I think these would be a great hold over for when you want the mood/flavor of a Maisie novel. Would love to see your thoughts if you end up starting this series!

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  8. I'm glad to see that you liked this, I had been looking at the first book in the series and couldn't make up my mind about reading it. Guess I'll have to check it out now! :)

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  9. Winspear :) Ok with that connection then yes I'd like it. Well I hope I would

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  10. sounds like a good story, but I think that this is the part of your review that sold me on this one, "It has the soft feel of a magazine illustration of the era and fits the chilly setting.
    "

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  11. I'm going to have to check this series out. Thanks for the review, Audra.

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  12. I'm glad you're intrigued enough to go back and read the other books in the series! Thanks for being a part of the tour.

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