Nicola Upson An Expert in Murder (2008)
Katharine McMahon The Crimson Rooms (2009)
An Expert in Murder: great concept; not convinced about the follow-through. Gorgeous cover. Upson's premise – a series of detective novels with the real life detective novel writer Josephine Tey (aka Gordon Daviot aka Elizabeth Mackintosh) as protagonist – is a very appealing one. And it taps into a current interest in the 1930s. And the settings are nicely done: lots of foggy London-ness and neat use of other contemporary figures more or less disguised by pseudonyms. The story revolves around the cast and crew of the play 'Richard of Bordeaux', written by Mackintosh/Tey (as Gordon Daviot). Incidentally, the 'real' play made a star of John Gielgud.
What mystery lies in Josephine Tey's past that has made her the target of a ruthless killer? Hopefully the familiar tortured cop figure (though he is not Alan Grant) with a soft spot for Tey will be able to solve the puzzle before Tey joins the growing body count. What I wondered about was why Tey? This is the sort of book that, say, an Agatha Christie would have pulled off with a totally believable yet entirely fictional author, and without mussing a hair. It's almost lazy to use Tey - and Upson is clearly not a lazy writer: she writes very well indeed and a lot of work has gone into recreating the appropriate background.
In sum: I'm not panning the book by any means. I'm just concerned that it didn't grab me and it should have grabbed me because I'm a huge Tey fan. There was little flavour of her carefully contained, almost bland style here - maybe that threw me? Imagining what it would be like in a Tey 'style'...
If you liked this... read Tey. TEY. I don't understand why she's badly rated nowadays. Ignore that bit about 'bland'.
The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon is the sort of satisfactory read that one might term a 'happily waste a leisurely afternoon and never regret it sort of book'. Set in 1924, a decade before Upson's novel, this book too deals with complications arising from the First World War, in which heroine's brother perished. Evelyn Gifford is the bread-winner of a constricted household and faces challenges both domestic and professional. Can she escape her miserable home life? Can she shake her brother's ghost? Is the child on the doorstep really her brother's son, conceived on the battlefields of France?
And then there's her professional struggles to achieve recognition in her chosen profession as a barrister. But who will employ a lady barrister in those first few years after women were admitted to the bar in 1922? What ulterior motives lie behind the championship, professional and romantic, of Evelyn by the dashing Nicholas Thorne? And there are orphans too. What more could you want? The Crimson Rooms is a perfect blend of historical reality and wild romancing. Ideal, as I said, for a leisurely afternoon in the recliner.
If you liked this... I thought McMahon's writing was excellent and The Rose of Sebastopol is on my TBR as we speak...