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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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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!
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on 28 August 2015
It's 1930s London, and real-life author Josephine Tey (The Daughter of Time, The Franchise Affair) is writing a fictional account of the real-life hanging of two notorious women baby farmers in 1903, which leads to a series of fictional murders solved in a real-life ladies' club by Josephine's fictional detective friend - on whom the fictional detective in her real-life books is based. And Josephine Tey was herself a fiction: in real life she was Elizabeth Mackintosh, aka playwright Gordon Daviot.
Still with me?
It was a clever idea, and Josephine/Elizabeth/Gordon was an interesting choice of protagonist. The research has been thorough so the settings are convincing, ranging from Holloway women's prison to London's theatreland in the 30s (Noel and Gertie make a brief appearance). The flashbacks to the baby farming story are grimly compelling, and the present-day murder story ends with a really good twist.
But there are so many interruptions to this plot. While I was sorting out the backstory of the drippy Josephine/Marta/Lydia love triangle - I hadn't read the first two books - and ploughing through all the other issues, I kept forgetting about the murder mystery. Prisons, punishment and rehabilitation are described and debated at length as part of a general examination of the role of women as the underdogs of society. All very worthy - but there's a killer on the loose!
And there are so many unanswered questions, too. It's the 1930s - would respectable people swear like this? Doesn't the general acceptance of all these openly gay women seem a little bit weird? Would nurses, teachers and gaolers all mix with the upper classes in this posh London club? Josephine is so distant and dreary - why do they all make such a fuss of her? And why does everyone - from seamstresses to police sergeants to Lady Whatsit - sound exactly the same?
This book just didn't work for me. But it's a serious attempt at something different, there are some good scenes, and that twist at the end really is unexpected, so three stars.
.
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on 6 July 2011
I'm a huge fan of Nicola Upson's Josephine Tey mysteries and wasn't disappointed by this, the third in the series. It is cleverly written, with a very real sense of time and place, and believable characters. The plot itself is intriguing and there were one or two surprises. I wasn't as keen on the romantic sub-plot (hence 4 stars instead of 5) as it didn't strike me as quite so believable, but it didn't really affect my overall enjoyment of the book. I'll definitely be reading book 4.
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on 23 August 2010
I have to say I was not quite as enamoured with this book as bookelephant. for very much the same reasons that he/she found the book interesting/enjoyable, I found it a little heavy going. I really wanted the author to get on with the story rather than use it quite so extensively as a vehical to explore the conditions of women prisoners in the early 20th century, attitudes towards women and careers, same sex relationships, class etc. sometimes the story of the murder seemed to be of secondary importance to the exploration of these issues. I also found the "modern" elements occasionally jarring with the golden age aesthetic, for example the swearing. I also feel that with each of the novels in this series the voice of Josephine Tey as a character is diminishing or becoming less distinct or interesting and has been replaced with the authors.

okay thats the negative stuff. I still enjoyed the book. I like the golden age stuff. I like the fact that Noel Coward can waft across the pages and that it can reference Brief Encounter to reflect one of the plot strands. I like the theatricality of the Motley Sisters and their social circle. I like the continuity of so many familiar characters and the odd running gag (poor Hephesbar). I want more of that. I thought there was an interesting twist that like the other reviewer I didn't see coming. I also wanted to know how the various plots would be resolved. so yeah, i enjoyed the book, but not as much as I would have done if the book had had a bit more rigorous editing. but hey, its my opinion and clearly other people love it as it is.
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on 23 July 2014
There is an interesting murder mystery in this book, and although weren't many too alternative solutions, it leads to a satisfying denouement, but one that didn't involve Josephine Tey too much. She was busily taken up with pages of relationship resolution, making up her mind over a character we hardly knew: this was impenetrable soppy nonsense.
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on 10 October 2015
What a shame that a gentile murder mystery with a lady sleuth had to be spiced up with graphic sex towards the end. Was completely unnecessary and ruined my enjoyment of The character of Josephine Tey and the other characters which appear in the real J Tey books. I won't be reading any more, you've spoiled them for me.
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on 12 October 2012
If you are a reader who enjoys intricate plotting, brutal murders, baby farming, turn of the century English women's prisons, death by suicide, execution by hanging not to mention a little lesbian action thrown in for good measure, then you are sure to embrace the latest in the Josephine Tey mystery series, TWO FOR SORROW. Nicola Upson has managed to capture the readers attention as she artfully leads them through all of the above referenced experiences in this whodunit of intertwined stories whose twists and turns lead to several surprising discoveries, not the least of which is the who, what, where, when and why of the culprits identity.

Relying on the 1903 executions of Amelia Sachs and Annie Walters as her foundation, Ms. Upson has created, via her protagonist Josephine, a fascinating back story for these two women and has cleverly blended their story with two other events in Josephine's life to provide the reader with a satisfying reading experience.

While I enjoyed Ms. Upson's intricately plotted narrative and the attention paid to the historically accurate aspects of this chronicle, I will admit I was a bit put off by the detour the story took with the insertion of the Josephine/Marta lesbian encounter. Its unnatural placement in the story really seems to have nothing to do with the mystery other than to possibly tap into the reader's prurient curiosity or possibly to establish Josephine as a person less self possessed than she appears to be and in reality just a staid woman unwilling or unable to deviate from the entrenched routines that constitute her life.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read. I would recommend that in order to better understand the relationships between many of the characters in this story, it would definitely be beneficial to read Upson's AN EXPERT IN MURDER before embarking on TWO FOR SORROW.
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on 27 October 2013
I picked this up because I love Josephine Tey's books, especially Daughter of Time, which is still a good read with an original spin on Richard III. But this one and other two found disappointing. The books all three in this series do not make their mind up to what kind of thriller/detective books they are. Inspector Grant is a great character and does not need the Josephine Tey in them as she does not add much to the plot or enjoyment of the books. I don't see why she was needed she came over as a cold and detached person even though the writer did try and add some spice to her.
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on 28 March 2014
I love this series and this one is the best so far. The story is gripping, with twists and turns and a few surprises. The romantic sub-plot surprised me and is not something you read every day, but very gently handled and I think in character.
The speech and attitudes of some of the characters in this series are anachronistic but overall that doesn't detract from the enjoyment.
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on 31 October 2010
Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson, published by Faber and Faber. Review by Angela Singer.

This book is chilling from beginning to end and will haunt you long after you have read it. The opening chapter, one of the most powerful in the English language describes the day that a woman is hanged.

She is a despicable creature, a "baby farmer" who murdered the little ones in her charge, having taken money from newly delivered mothers assuring them that the child would be placed for adoption. She can walk cold-bloodedly carrying a dead baby along the streets of London . She can sit in a cafe, drinking unperturbed with the dead child on her lap - yet even that does not ameliorate the horror of the hanging, the state deliberately destroying a life - even that life.

Nicola Upson's third detective novel has her heroine, the real-life author and dramatist Josephine Tey, writing a novel about the Finchley baby farmers, Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, who were hanged at Holloway Prison on February 3, 1903. As Josephine researches this book, other murders happen around her, of young women working in the theatreland of London in the 1920s, where these novels are set.

Josephine and her friend, the dashing Inspector Archie Penrose, Upson's own creation, unravel a connection between the hanged women and the new murders a generation later. Upson, with her compelling and delicate writing style, layered onto meticulous research of the history and the period - she actually trod in the footsteps of the hanged women - creates for her readers a doorway into a lost world.

Extraordinary as the events in this book are, they are told with such detail that they are absolutely credible. The book holds your attention to the end and never fails to surprise.
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