Top positive review
34 people found this helpful
Another excellent book in this promising series ...
on 17 July 2010
In this, Upson's third in her "Josephine Tey" series, Josephine's interest in a historical crime intersects with a truly horrific murder of a beautiful young ex-con who is going straight as a seamstress in the Motleys' charming theatrical/fashion studio. Also involved is one of the first "professional women's clubs" - which is of course where Josephine hangs out for peace and quiet in London. On the purely conventional crime level Upson weaves together scenes from the book which Josephine is writing, and the progress of the case, dropping excellent clues in true Golden Age fashion. At one point I thought I was going to be disappointed, but a final twist (such as the Motleys would use in giving a dress the perfect line and lie!) proved she had caught me napping, and provided a throughly satisfactory solution to the mystery.
But there is rather more than this accomplished Golden Age mystery to her work. Having not at all enjoyed David Roberts' attempts to provide us with new Golden Age detective material I was very sceptical about Nicola Upson's books - but having finally succumbed to them, I am delighted with what appears to be a fascinating series in the making. What seems to me particularly fine is the synthesis of Golden Age and modern styles - some reviewers have cavilled at this (not least in her frankness about the protagonists' love lives - which Tey herself would have hinted at and Sayers cloaked under layers of classical allusions) but I find it a very successful approach - one feels (since one knows for a fact that many of them did not lead conventional lives) as if one were reading what a Golden Age novelist might have said, were it not for the hovering blue pencil of her editor! Other interesting features of this modern/Golden Age combination are the establishment of sympathy with a character before killing him/her (modern!) combined with rather outre killings (GA) and considerable detail of circumstances/nastiness of death/scene (modern). Also worthy of note is the excellent research which seems to lie behind each book - here in addition to the delicious theatrical milieu of Gielgud/Olivier/Coward (the last of whom unusually appears under his own name) the Cowdray club and its atmosphere are fascinatingly evoked - and one gets a sense of greater sisterly solidarity amongst professional women in that era than one ever finds now that the battle for equality is supposedly won.
But possibly the refinement for which I have the most admiration is the exploration of Tey herself, and the fleshing out of her characters which one sees through the books. I always felt that Grant was really someone Tey knew and loved - and the development of Archie Penrose as the inspriation for the character (despite their considerable differences) is a theme which I find very satisfying. Likewise the sidelights on the development of the books and the other recurring characters (eg. Marta Hallard). Interestingly in this book Upson asks us, via Josephine, if what she is doing in recreating Tey and her world is right or wrong when she meditates on the appropriateness of novelising her historical crime when, she admits, she can't know what the women involved were really like. While the answer for Josephine on her facts may be no, I think that the answer for Upson and this series is emphaticaly: Yes. Keep them coming please - I look forward to the next already!