An Expert in Murder – Nicola Upson

I am sure there are some books that you have on your TBR piles which you mean to get round to reading for ages and ages yet for some reason, and despite the best intentions, the mood never quite takes you – even though you are fairly sure you are going to enjoy it. ‘An Expert in Murder’ by Nicola Upson has been one such book on my TBR pile (which you can see here) for quite some time. I was just in the mood for some cosy crime last week, but cosy wasn’t quite what I got.

Having not, as yet, ever read anything by the crime author Josephine Tey I wasn’t sure how well I would get along with Nicola Upson’s debut novel ‘An Expert in Murder’ as Tey herself is one of the principal characters. However being fictional, though I know it will have been researched and based on fact, I thought it wouldn’t be a problem and it wasn’t at all. What I knew I would love about the book (and was proved right) was that it was set in the 1930’s which is an era I adore and is set around the theatres of London and industry I worked in for several years, though not in the era this book was set.

As Josephine Tey travels by train to London to see the closing week of her incredibly successful West End play ‘Richard of Bordeaux’ she befriends a young woman called Elspeth who it turns out is a fan of the show and Tey herself. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and promise to meet up at the theatre over the coming week. Elspeth however is murdered and the more that the case is looked into the more it seems to be linked to Tey and her play. Detective Inspector Archie Penrose, who also knows Tey, is called to investigate the crime and a ruthless, cold murderer who strikes again right in the heart of Tey’s theatre land. Being a crime book and a murder mystery it would be churlish of me to say any more and give anything away.

This book itself does feel like it could have been written in the period in which it’s set. Though a cosy crime, which for some reason the cover suggested me, this is not in fact in parts it can be a little blunt and gruesome giving it a gritty realism. I did love the feel of the traces of the First World War and its effects since were still leaving their marks on all the characters there was a sadness to it and it added a certain something to the book. There is also a real spite to the murders that is rather chilling. It also reminded me of works of the period.  There was a feeling of Christie plotting in parts, which is a good thing, but with much more depth of character and less so of plot if that makes sense.

In fact if I had a little quibble with this book it was that the characters and the amount of them made me slightly conscious this was a first novel and occasionally almost trying to hard to please. I understand that the more characters you have in a crime book the more suspects, motives and red herrings you can work in. Yet occasionally there are so many characters known by both first and last names I got slightly confused and would have to back track some pages. I also couldn’t quite work out why everyone seemed to know Tey, and not because of her fame, in fact everyone seemed to be very chummy with Penrose too. There were also some suspects that you didn’t think worked at the theatre and yet did but worked elsewhere too which wasn’t unbelievable I just wanted it to be a little clearer now and again.

These are small things but it would be wrong if I didn’t mention the weaker points as I would recommend this book to be read if you haven’t. I didn’t race through this because I kept having to re-read a few bits here and there, I did enjoy it though and it was surprised how dark it was in parts – which I am a fan of in crime. As I mentioned before at the start of this post this is a book I have been meaning to read for yonks and only just gotten around to, I am so pleased that its sequel ‘Angel With Two Faces’ is lingering on the TBR pile now for future reading as I have found a new crime series that I am fairly sure could become a firm favourite and its author shows great signs of promise in books to come.

A book that will: appeal to those of you who love London and/or the theatre through all its ages and a period murder mystery that will definitely have you guessing and possibly send you on a Tey/Christie craze. 7/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie – a recently discovered stand alone novel by the Queen of Crime that I thought was utterly marvellous, made me laugh and left me guessing.
Daphne by Justine Picardie – not a crime novel, though there is a mystery about it, but a wonderful novel that features another female writer Daphne Du Maurier as a fictional character, and you all know how much I love Daphers.  

Who else has read ‘An Expert in Murder’, what did you think of it? Have you read the sequel? Who out there has read any Josephine Tey?  I would quite like read something of hers now that I have read this book, any suggestions?


Filed under Faber & Faber, Nicola Upson, Review

19 responses to “An Expert in Murder – Nicola Upson

  1. Interesting – a fictional book about a writer! Good concept – althouhg you’re right, it’s been done before in Daphne which I did enjoy greatly.

  2. I´ve read and reviewed this one this year. I think my problem was that it was too dark for my crime taste, I prefer cosy crimes (it´s my escapist genre). I should probably reread it, but then treat it as a novel, would probably enjoy it more then.

    Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? is my favorite amateur sleuth mystery by Agatha Christie 🙂

    • Bina we are agreed on Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? I was really charmed by it when I read it earlier in the year, I think its my favourite of hers… so far, though I do love Miss Marple.

      I get the darkness you mean with this book. I think this book hedged its bets a little bit, it wanted to be dark and cosy.

  3. I have read several Tey mysteries with pleasure. About most of them I don’t remember enough details to comment except for Daughter of Time, which I recommend. The detective, confined to his hospital bed and thoroughly bored, takes on a historical mystery. Did the “evil” Richard III really murder the two little princes in the tower, as Shakespeare alleges?

    • I actually discovered that I had a Tey mystery in the TBR that I had completely forgotten I owned. So that will be getting read soon. Its ‘To Love and Be Wise’ not sure how good or not it is, I will give it a whirl and let you all know.

  4. I read this just last month, and had almost the same reaction to it as you did. I enjoyed it with a few reservations. I haven’t picked up the next one yet, but I believe that I read somewhere that her third one is also due out this summer in the UK (not sure where I saw that, so don’t quote me). As for Josephine Tey herself, I cannot recommend her enough. She died young-ish, so she didn’t produce nearly the volume as our beloved Dame Agatha, but the thing that makes Tey’s mysteries so wonderful is that they are all extremely different. I would echo the above recommendation of Daughter of Time and another good starting place might be Miss Pym Disposes or The Franchise Affair. The Man in the Queue was referenced in An Expert in Murder, but now I’m gushing. 🙂
    So glad you enjoyed it, but do give Tey herself a whirl when you can.

    • It’s enjoyable that would probably be the best one word review for it. I liked it, will give the second one a whirl I think dependent on how that one I might carry on with the series or maybe not… we will see.

      I don’t know much about Tey, so what you have written is really interesting. I might find out more about her when I read the next one.

  5. gaskella

    I have both the Upsons in my TBR – like you I keep meaning to read them, but other books intervene. I enjoyed the one Tey I’ve read hugely, so maybe I shouldn’t bypass these as I have been guilty of doing. One day I might even re-read some Christie too – I’ve not read Agatha since my teens.

  6. I’ve read this one and have started the second. Like you, I thought it was pretty dark at times, but then Josephine Tey’s books are much darker than those of Christie, Sayers or Marsh so I was hoping it would reflect that. I enjoyed it tremendously especially since I love that period in British history.

  7. fleurfisher

    I enjoyed this one with reservations too, but I am afraid I was disappointed with the sequel. There were some interesting ideas, but it felt horribly contrived and I was none too impressed with Nicola Upson’s portrayal of my part of Cornwall. But I picked up book 3, which is set back in London, in the library this weekend and it looks much more interesting, so maybe this is one of those series that will grow in stature.

  8. Ellen

    Run, don’t walk, to the nearest book source and get all the Teys. Brilliant, each and every one.

  9. Read this, ok I thought and then read the second which was dire. Thoughts and actions put in the mind of Josephine Tey and if you read these books you might think she actually thought and behaved like this. If you change the name Jospehine Tey to Wilhelmina Sausage, does it make any difference to the story? NO. It is merely to attract sales that is all.

    Read the Tey books themselves and avoid these. I wont be reading the next one

    • Ooooh blimey that’s an interesting set of thoughts from you Elaine as you know your crime. I might see how I get on with the second book and see how it goes. I will definitley be giving Tey a whirl though.

  10. Pingback: The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey | Savidge Reads

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