Wednesday, August 10, 2011

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!


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

  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!

  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!

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

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

  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!

  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!

  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! :)

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

  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.

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

  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.