Author: Nicola Upson
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1930s / 1950s / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Murder Mystery / Hitchcock / Josephine Tey / Wales / Hollywood / Movies / LGBTQ)
Publisher/Publication Date: Bourbon Street Books (4/19/2013)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: Liked a good deal.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: Novelist Josephine Tey celebrates her 40th birthday at a resort in Wales with friends, Alfred Hitchcock, and murders.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, What's in a Name
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it perfectly captures the locale, characters, and ambiance of the novel.
First line: 'Do you mind if we stop for a moment?'
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- and get the previous books as well!
Why did I get this book?: I'd read Upson's previous Tey mystery in 2011 and liked it.
Review: I love a good mystery series for the mix of new and familiar: the return to characters I know and enjoy, settings and eras that are appealing and made different with new crimes, perhaps new tidbits about my beloved detectives and crime stoppers. Nicola Upson's series featuring 1930s mystery novelist Josephine Tey is a new favorite -- in 2011, I reviewed Two For Sorrow, and was taken with Tey, Upson's lovely writing style, and the dark moodiness of the locale and crime.
(A note about the heroine: Josephine Tey is a real-life author of mystery novels from the 1930s. Tey is the pseudonym for Elizabeth Mackintosh, a very mysterious and shadowy writer. I don't know if Upson's articulation of Tey is meant to be a reflection of Mackintosh or if she's styling her Tey as a person independent of Mackintosh, so if you're me, try not to assume Tey's sapphic inclinations are historical fact.)
The setting of this book is almost the polar opposite of Two For Sorrow -- a sunshine-y resort in Wales, Hitchock and movies, the golden glitz of birthdays and celebrities -- and yet, underneath is the same dark sadness, moodiness, and bittersweet mix of loss and longing I found so appealing.
That sense of bittersweet loss was evident from the first page, in 1954, when we learn our heroine, Josephine Tey, is dead. (I was so stunned I reread this page about a dozen times before deciding to trust Upson and see what was going on.) Tey's friend, Detective Archie Penrose, has been asked to consult on a series of murders in Hollywood that might be connected to a series of murders from 1936. The connection: both happened on Alfred Hitchcock's film sets and were possibly committed by the same person -- despite the fact the 1936s murders were considered solved.
Upson takes us back to that summer. Tey, celebrating her 40th birthday, is considering selling her newest mystery to Hitchcock, and is vacationing at Portmeirion, a planned resort on the coast of Wales. Archie has joined her as well as a coterie of friends and acquaintances, including a woman for whom she has complicated emotional feelings. Hitchcock and his wife Alma are staying there as well, with a gaggle of actors and film crew, observed by the locals who work and live around the resort. Quickly, things turn tense: Hitchcock is a cruel practical joker and a prank of his goes to far; a murder victim turns up and quickly the mood on the resort turns from nervous and excited to anxious and angry. Tey struggles with her romantic feelings for a woman -- and all that implies -- while Archie finds his own romance.
The feel of this story is a bit of 1950s Hollywood noir meets Agatha Christie's closed room English murder mysteries. (Perhaps even reminiscent of Tey's novels but I've never read them.) While I can't wholly endorse this one as a standalone I do think those who are interested in Hitchcock will enjoy this one and could read it outside of the series. Upson has done personal interviews with those who knew Hitchcock and this novel is full of gossip-y tidbits about what the man was like, his gifted wife Alma Reville, and what on-set life was like with the famed director. The insight into the British film industry in the 1930s was also fascinating. Upson shifts from character to character which is both fun -- you see the whole story unfold -- but also slightly maddening, as I wanted very much to just settle down with Tey and know exactly what she's thinking and feeling!
I finished this one quickly -- it reads fast -- and I will admit to being panicked that this was the last Tey novel Upson had planned. Thankfully, her website says one will be coming out at the end of this summer. (Whew!) I know there are many novels set during this era, but what I enjoy about Upson's series is her heroine -- this smart, chic, pragmatic author -- and the setting -- the eve of World War II, in a way, Britain in the years leading up to the war. There's a mix of glamor and grit I find appealing and as I mentioned before, a lingering sort of melancholy I can't resist.
(Also, this book introduced me to HarperCollins' new mystery imprint, Bourbon Street Books. They'll be re-iussing the Lord Peter Wimsey books by Dorothy L. Sayers!)
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