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Angel with Two faces (Josephine Tey) Paperback – 14 Nov 2009
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Within a relatively short period, Nicola Upson has established herself as one of the most inventive and unusual of crime writers, marrying a sure storytelling grip to a non-pareil skill at evoking both period atmosphere and English locales. However – as Angel with Two Faces comprehensively demonstrates -- her real coup lies in her canny utilisation of a classic English writer, Josephine Tey (of The Franchise Affair and The Daughter of Time fame) as the protagonist of her books. And, what’s more, doing full justice to her much-loved predecessor's memory; it’s easy to feel that Tey herself would be delighted with these fictitious imaginings of her life an investigative figure.
The first book in the series, An Expert in Murder, was acclaimed by no less a figure in the field than PD James (admittedly, a stablemate at the same publisher), and this second outing maintains the quality of the first. Set against a strongly realised Cornish landscape, Upson begins her tale with death of a young man in the Loe Pool while on a riding excursion. Archie Penrose, a policeman whose family are the custodians of the estate, looks at the death askance – particularly when another young man goes missing, and a village prelate falls to his death from a nearby cliff. Josephine Tey, a friend of Archie Penrose, finds her wish for a quiet holiday banished when she becomes involved in a grim and baffling mystery.
The interaction between the duo here is delightfully handled, and the metaphor they adopt – death as an angel with two faces looking at both past and present -- is as allusive and strange as the narrative itself. Let’s hope Nicola Upson has more plans for the imaginary amateur detective life of Josephine Tey. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Chilling and clever. --Linda Fairstein
A new and assured talent. --P D James
An ingenious concept, beautifully realised. --Reginald Hill --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I too took this book on holiday thinking that I would be able to bury myself in it but had to force myself to finish it and by the end I had ceased caring about who had done what to whom. I will think long and hard before buying the next one but I do hope that it will be up to the standard of the first one as we could do with another new classic english crime writer.
This is, in fact, the second in a series by Nicola Upson featuring Josephine Tey and her friend, policeman Archie Penrose. Not having read the first could have placed me at something of a disadvantage, but in fact this detracted little, if anything, from my enjoyment of the story - which proved to be a cracking read with some genuinely unexpected twists.
Josephine Tey was, of course, a pseudonym for Scottish writer Elizabeth Mackintosh, but the character who appears in this book is clearly Josephine, rather than Elizabeth, and hence in some sense can be viewed as a fictional creation. Nicola Upson clearly recognises this in a concluding author's note, in which she states that the character of Josephine blends "some of what we know about Elizabeth Mackintosh with the personality which emerges so strongly from her eight crime novels". Tey is not the only "real person" to appear - Rowena Cade, founder of the Minack Theatre, also makes an appearance, and the open-air theatre itself provides a dramatic setting for one pivotal scene, as indeed does the Loe Pool - Cornwall's largest freshwater lake. Fact and fiction are hence blended to intriguing effect. (The Minack Theatre did indeed stage a production of The Jackdaw of Rheims in 1935, although Upson may have taken some liberties with the events....)
The story begins with the funeral of a young man, Harry Pinching, following what appeared to be a tragic accident - and its after-effects on the close-knit community. Close-knit or not, it soon becomes apparent that everyone in the community has secrets, and no-one - save for one naive young teenage girl - wants to share them. Nonetheless, the revelations come thick and fast, and are rarely predictable.
In common with a previous reviewer, I did have to question the realism of Archie and Josephine's reaction to some of these revelations. Both seem quite stunningly broad-minded and accepting - this is set in 1935, remember - in response to disclosures some of which are taboo even by today's standards, let alone in those days. I wondered whether Nicola Upson intended to portray these characters as remarkable in their attitudes, or whether she was applying more modern-day standards than those which would probably have been more prevalent at the time. The novel does, overall, have a fairly contemporary feel to it, given the era in which it was set.
That's a minor quibble, though, because this is a real page-turner. Upson excels at building up atmosphere and makes great use of the geographical setting. Characters are also well drawn (many have evocative, almost Dickensian names - Jago Snipe, Morwenna Pinching, Jasper Motley) and if the secrets and revelations come to Archie and Josephine a little too dramatically and conveniently.... well, it is fiction, after all. Mostly.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It has inspired me not only to seek out Nicola Upson's first novel in the series, An Expert in Murder (and I eagerly await further instalments) but also to go back and re-read the wonderful 1930s and 1940s novels of Josephine Tey. I'm sure many other readers will have the same reaction.
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