‘Two For Sorrow’ by Nicola Upson is an immersive and beautifully written Josephine Tey mystery, set in 1930s London. Josephine is back in London researching her next book on the baby farmers of the early part of the century. Amelia Sachs and Annie Walters were executed for their crimes, but Miss Tey is more interested in the aftermath of their crimes. How others were also affected. While staying at her club in town, Josephine is drawn into a case investigated by her friend Detective Inspector Archie Penrose. Danger lurks all around and the pair must find the killer before it is too late.
There’s a depth to the story that you don’t see coming, and I must admit it took my breath away. The author weaves a story of personal tragedy, with a wider stain on society. And the years have not wiped away that stain.
London of that era was so perfectly described, as Josephine meets with her London theatre friends and mixes with high society. There’s plenty of name dropping- which is an absolute delight. We saw the lives of women of different classes and the choices they had to make. And we also saw the consequences of those decisions.
Nicola Upson cleverly ties in the tiny threads of her story and brings it all together with such skill.
I was left profoundly moved by the stories within ‘Two For Sorrow’. It’s a stunningly well written and researched story and would make a wonderful film/tv adaptation.
Irene Ingram is now editor in chief of the Progress Herald. Her father has left to report on the war in the pacific, and her fiancé is in training somewhere, preparing to join the battles in Europe. She may be a great reporter and ready to take on the role, but it’s the early 1940s. Many of the residents in her small town don’t agree. A woman in a position of power is extremely unusual and not always welcomed. Irene is determined to prove them wrong and gets the chance to show her skills, when a sudden and unexplained death hits close to her. With anti-Semitic attacks springing up in the previously quiet and welcoming town, Irene and her friend Peggy begin to investigate.
I liked the historical World War 2 time-frame. It was very well described and it felt so contemporary even though it was set in the 1940s. These characters felt real. She managed to make the reader feel a part of the time too. It was a fantastic story and so believable. I really liked Irene . She was strong, daring and clever, and I want to read more of her stories.
This book gave a very different perspective. We found out about the women who stepped up and took on responsibilities outside the home. Through Irene’s eyes we saw the barriers they came up against.
The mystery was well told and kept me gripped throughout. I loved it.
‘Murder Underground’ was originally published in the 1930s, and it is to that time the reader is transported. The descriptions of London, life in boarding hotels and the various characters were fascinating. It intrigued me.
When one of the boarders at the Frampton Hotel is found dead in Belsize Station, theories abound amongst the residents as to how she met her death. Miss Pongleton was not a popular woman, but none of her fellow residents would have wished a violent death on her. The strength of this story is in the characters and how they fit in to the mystery. I loved the conversations between them, and finding out slowly what part they each had to play. I can’t get enough of the Golden Age of Crime.
This year has been another difficult one, but authors have stepped up and given us some amazing stories. I struggled to whittle my favourite books of the year down to a reasonable number. There was no way I could stop at a Top Ten, but I managed a Top Fifteen. These are the books that made my year, and I highly recommend each and every one. Here they are, listed in no particular order:
The Tell Tale by Clare Ashton
2. A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry
3. The Island Between Us by Wendy Hudson
4. The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan
5. Ignis by KJ
6. The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
7. Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily R Austin
This book is based on a true story and has been meticulously researched, using documents from the time. But it reads like a great murder mystery story and is engrossing. When the chief cashier of the railway is found dead in his office, we are introduced to a true locked room mystery. The author explains the working of the railways at that time and that in itself is fascinating. The Victorian era was the heyday of the railways, and was big business. I won’t go into the investigation to prevent spoilers, but suffice to say, it is a great tale. Thomas Morris captures the times so well.
‘The Dead Of Winter’ by Nicola Upson is a Josephine Tey mystery, set at Christmas 1938, when the threat of war is again looming over Europe. Josephine has been invited to Cornwall for the holiday, along with Marta and Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose. Their base is the beautifully picturesque St Michael’s Mount. Excitement abounds as a famous film star will be there too. When death occurs it is up to Archie to investigate as the group are cut off from the mainland. Can he uncover the truth before anyone else dies?
This story is reminiscent of a Golden Age country house mystery and it works. Combining real characters and events with a cracking plot adds a certain frisson and kept me intrigued throughout. The individuals stuck on the island are a strange bunch, all with secrets of their own. Some more serious than others. The author build the tension perfectly, and not just regarding the murder. You know that revelations will happen and there will be repercussions, but how she chooses to do it is so skilful. I loved the real characters in the novel and the real setting. Josephine Tey maybe the starting point for the mysteries, but she is not a dominant character. She plays her part, but it is Archie Penrose who takes the lead here. The strength of the story is getting to know the various characters and the setting. Building it up. It tugged at my emotions and surprised me. A great story.
‘These Names Make Clues’ by E.C.R. Lorac has been republished as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. It was first published in 1937, the year that the author became a member of the Detection Club, a networking and social group of detective fiction writers, founded in 1930. Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and John Dickson Carr were all members, and it remains in existence today, with Martin Edwards at its helm.
Interestingly the plot revolves around a treasure hunt held by a publisher, where various authors are invited to solve clues, but using pseudonyms. In his introduction to the novel, Edwards points out the similarities to some of Lorac’s fellow club members. One wonders what they made of their depictions when it first came out?
When one of their number is found dead, Chief Inspector MacDonald, a participant in the game, begins an investigation into the death, and finds that the group are hiding more than just their real names. As he pits his wits against the authors, we as readers are drawn into a clever and intricate story, where no-one and nothing is quite as it seems.
I loved the setting and the time, as it was written at the height of the Golden Age of Murder fiction and perfectly epitomises all that I adore about that era. It is written in the language of the time, and is intelligently told, with clues scattered throughout. One just has to spot them. At times we are seeing the investigation from the point of view of MacDonald, other times of journalist Peter Vernon, an acquaintance of the inspector. A very enjoyable, brain-taxing read.
‘A Fatal Night’ by Faith Martin is the second book I’ve read in this series, and I’m growing very fond of WPC Trudy Loveday and Coroner Dr Clement Ryder. The young police officer and elderly county coroner make an interesting pair, and their methods and investigations make for fascinating reading. This story is set over Christmas and New Year of 1962, when a ‘big freeze’ stopped Britain in its tracks. Snow and ice blocked the roads and many died. And it is one of these deaths that Trudy and Clement seek to investigate. As with any investigation, lies abound, and it is up to them to get to the truth and find the killer.
I really like the dynamic between the two characters. The blend of youthful enthusiasm and a determination to learn, with the experience and wisdom of someone who has seen it all, really works. The setting of 1960s Oxford is also very appealing, as it gives an insight into the time, as well as the problems faced by a young woman in the police force back then. I enjoyed the story immensely, and it is exactly the kind of cosy mystery I want to read in these times. However unsettled it may seem for us in real life, you can always count on a cosy mystery.
What murder mystery fan doesn’t love a country house murder? ‘Murder At The Wedding’ ticks all the boxes and more.
Kitty Underhay is invited to the wedding of her cousin Lucy, and with her maid Alice, travels to Yorkshire for the event. Talk of a ghost in the country pile intrigues her, but it seems there’s more danger than she thinks lurking in the wings. When events turn deadly Kitty steps in. With the help of her private investigator beau, Matt, she aims to find out who is behind the strange goings-on before anyone else is hurt.
I enjoyed the writing style and the atmospheric setting of the story. The introductions of the various characters in the house were wonderfully descriptive and made me feel as if I was back in the past with them.
Teasing out the motives worked well too, and the insight into life for women of the era was fascinating. We saw how Kitty was underestimated by the police, but not by her family and especially not by Matt. I thoroughly enjoyed this perfect cosy mystery.
‘Till Death Do Us Part’ is a fiendishly clever locked room mystery by stalwart of the Detection Club, John Dickson Carr.
Dick Markham is a crime writer, about to announce his engagement to the beautiful, but enigmatic Lesley Grant. When she accidentally shoots a fortune-teller at the village fayre, she is distraught. Things go from bad to worse when the man later dies – and Lesley comes under suspicion. Not just for his death, but as a serial poisoner. Who is Dick to believe? When Dr Gideon Fell and Superintendent Hadley enter the scene clues point in a multitude of directions. And Dick is nowhere nearer to solving the mystery.
This book has a beautiful cover, based on a railway poster of the time, taking the reader on a journey to the past. To an England of picture-perfect rural villages and recognisable characters. Current Detection Club President Martin Edwards provides a fascinating and informative introduction. I relish Edwards’ knowledgeable pieces in the British Library Crime Classics series, as they give an insight into the author and into his inspirations.
In common with Dick Markham I didn’t know who to believe. Just when I thought I had it worked out, the author turned the story on its head. It was a cleverly constructed story, teasing out the clues, making the reader do a double take more than once. Fell and Hadley, and their significant brain power, tried to see past the lies and subterfuge. Past the construct put before them. But by whom? I adore a good puzzle and this was a superlative one. It was beautifully wrapped up and made for a highly satisfying mystery.