Tag Archives: Nicola Upson

A Very British Murder

There simply are not enough shows on the telly about books, fact! So when one does come along invariably I will watch it just because it is about books, occasionally though one comes along that is so up your street and so brilliant you want to tell everyone about it. This is exactly how I feel about ‘A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsley’ the second episode of which is on tonight on BBC Four at 9pm and which I insist you watch. But here is a teaser, without spoilers, of why (if you missed it) the first episode was so brilliant…

Lucy Worsley, who hosts the show, is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces where she puts on exhibitions like ‘Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber’ which is currently on at Hampton Court Palace. She is also a writer of several historical non-fiction books the latest of which just so happens to be ‘A Very British Murder’ and is now on my bedside table to be read between bouts of ‘The Luminaries’ (which I am still making very slow progress on bit by bit) though for the purposes of this post I moved it by the telly as you can see below…

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You can tell you are in good hands with Lucy, and that she loves a good book, as before the opening credits of the first show have rolled she states “Grisly crimes would appal us if we encountered them in real life, but something happens when they are turned into stories and safely places between the covers of a book.” It is of course the history of the British crime novel which this series celebrates, from Dickens to Christie and onwards, and to start it all Lucy looks at the first real cases of murder (The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, The Murder in the Red Barn and The Bermondsey Horror) which really got the public talking about murder and gave them an appetite for the salacious and sensational, which authors of course switched onto and as ‘the Detective’ was born, so of course was ‘the Detective novel’.

Well I was spellbound for an hour. I have since been recounting several people will facts like ‘did you know that in 1810 only 15 people were convicted of murder?’ or ‘did you know of The Bermondsey Horror and that Maria Manning was Charles Dickens inspiration for Hortense in ‘Bleak House’?’ It has made me desperate to go off and find some old ‘Broadsides’, newspapers/pamphlets solely aimed at chronicling the most horrid of murders for the public, also Thomas DeQuincy’s essay ‘On Murder’ from 1810 and dig out some modern books, which didn’t get mentioned on the show, like ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree’ by P.D James and Thomas A. Critchley (a non-fiction about the Ratcliffe Highway Murders) and Nicola Upson’s new novel ‘The Death of Lucy Kyte’ (a fiction with shadows of The Murder in the Red Barn). Plus with autumn in the air here in the UK I have been pondering dusting off some Wilkie Collins etc and bringing back a sensation season myself! I love it when TV makes you want to switch it off and read a book instead, don’t you?

Suffice to say Lucy is marvellous, and brilliantly camp or ghoulish when required which makes it all the more enjoyable, as she hosts often sat beside a fire making you feel like she is almost telling you a bedtime story brimming with murder in itself, which I suppose it is really. Anyway if me going on and on about its brilliance wasn’t enough I will just mention the facts that Simon Callow is on it tonight as we discover what the Dickens, erm, Dickens thought and was inspired further by and Kate Summerscale will be on discussing the case which inspired ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’. What more could you ask for on a Monday night?

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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?

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Filed under Faber & Faber, Nicola Upson, Review

A Few More Additions & Double Trouble

I am not sure the postman was a fan of me this week, but then again with all the postal strikes of late I dont think that I am really a fan of the postmen. Who do they keep on striking when its not getting them anything, well all its getting is the british public a bit narked off and really you would think they would want us onside. In the current climate at least they have jobs… any way off my Savidge Soapbox and back to books!

Yes its that time again when I come to share with you the latest arrivals at Savidge Reads Towers (which the postman has begrudged delivering) and ask you what you have read from whats arrived and what you want to read…the latter in particular today you may want to think about as it may prove relevant further in the blog. Anyways the first few arrivals have been  from the lovely people at Oxford University Press for my ‘Sensational September’ read-a-thon which I would love for you to join in on if you would like. So the ones that have arrived so far (more are on the way apparently) are…

Some Sensational Stuff

  • No Name by Wilkie Collins, which I know nothing about which in a strange way suits the title of the novel.
  • The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins, this is supposed to be one of his shortest Sensation Novels and yet one of the ones which packs the biggest punch which after reading The Woman in White (which I am going to re-read) I would be mighty impressed if it could beat.
  • East Lynne by Ellen Wood, sensation fiction fans claim this is the mother of all sensation novels and there for maybe where I start, or should this be where I finish? This one sold hundreds towards the end of the 1860’s and is most well known for its implausible plot – sounds a hoot!

Next is a mixture of stuff from various publishers and other sources. The week before last saw the author Chris Ewan contact me )my Gran was here she found it all very exciting) after seeing me comment on Random Jottings post about his books and offered to send me the latest not minding “if you don’y blog about it if you dont like it” which was a really refreshing view, I have had pushy authors in the past who I shall not name and shame, its simply suffice to say their books have never featured on the site.  Anyway I bought the first one ‘A Good Theifs Guide To Amsterdam’ as I have to read series in order, everything else has popped through the Savidge Reads letter box from various lovely people.

New Random Arrivals

  • An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson, I have lost count how many times I have seen praise in the blogging world for this novel and so its been on my hitlist a while. Very excited.
  • A Good Thief’s Guide To Amsterdam by Chris Ewan, as mentioned above.
  • A Good Thief’s Guide To Paris by Chris Ewan, again as mentioned above. Oh but the premise is that its about a crime author who is also a thief. Read the post by Random Jottings for a better summary.
  • Ekaterinburg by Helen Rapport, I have had this one the wish list for ages as people were raving about this non-fiction piece about the Romanov’s and the last thirteen days before their massacre in 1918. This looks to be a non fiction masterpiece and I said I would read much more non fiction this year.
  • Voice Over by Celine Curiol, which is next months Book Group Book. You can go on that page to read more about it and if you want to attend do contact me. Sounds like a very exciting debut from this french author I wouldnt have read if it hadn’t been put forward this month.
  • Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher, I knew nothing of this book it was a suprise in the post, I do adore the cover though. It’s based in Egypt which is a country I haven’t read many novels set in and looks like its quite an intriguing plot about relations between Britain and Egypt and the political climate. I may have got that all wrong.
  • Angel With Two Faces by Nicola Upson, the sequel to An Expert in Murder… already, very exciting.
  • Conspirator: Lenin in Exhile by Helen Rappaport, the latest of her non fiction and more about Russia andof course Lenin. Ever since reading Child 44 I have wanted to find more out about Russia and it seems over the next few months I will get my chance.

Finally (‘at last’ I hear you cry) there have been five or ten other arrivals depending how you look at it…

Doubled Up

  • True Murder by Yaba Badoe, I have been picking up and putting this down for about three weeks at Waterstones as its one of thier books of the month. Two children find a skeleton in their attic at boarding school and decide to play detective, though what if the killer is still there and wants to keep certain dark secrets buried? Sounds reallt, really good and quite me.
  • Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler, the latest Tyler novel… erm… need I say more?
  • The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews, this was long listed for the Orange prize earlier in the year. I like the Orange lists and this is one I didn’t get to read but now its out in paper back I can.
  • A Story of Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer, the tale of a happy marriage that one the arrival of a knock at the door changes for ever, another book that sounds very me.
  • The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty by Sebastian Barry, now if any of you have read and loved ‘The Secret Scripture’ then you might remember the brief arrival of the character Eneas in the narrator Roseanne’s tale, now prior to The Secret Scripture the author Sebastian Barry has already written Eneas’ story, am looking forward to this one a lot too.

As you may have noticed I got doubles of these and so, yes thats right, you can expect some giveaways in the fortchcoming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled! I just need to work out if I should give them away one by one or in a big parcel or two parcels? Hmmm… I shall mull it over by the Lido today in the sun, where I am going to be getting into the world of The Tudors and Cromwell. More on that later in the week.

Have you read any of the books above? What are the latest books you have bought, been given, etc? What are you reading now and whats top of your TBR and wish lists?

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