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