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?