Ever since I ran out of Agatha Christie novels my relationship with mystery novels has not been the same. It used to be unabashed enthusiasm but now it´s mostly apprehension. So, did this one convince me?
An Expert in Murder features author Josephine Tey who travels to London for the final week of her long-running play Richard of Bordeaux. However, a young women she met on the train is murdered and inspector Archie Penrose suspects a connection to Josephine and her play.
I think I should mention that I have yet to read any work by Elizabeth Mackintosh, neither the plays under the pseudonym of Gordon Daviot nor her novels, which were published under the name Josephine Tey. The use of the writer as a character did not cause any problems for me, I don´t know if it causes fans of her works not to read this mystery.
My problems with this book, at least in the beginning, were my expectations. I thought this would be a nice cozy crime, and was rather put off by the depressive mood of it. Then I couldn´t keep track of the characters, which was not helped by the shifting narrative. I dislike this in mystery novels, and prefer to stay with the sleuth because I want to figure out whodunnit and letting the murderer narrate parts without giving away that he is the murderer feels like cheating.
The second half got better, or I simply got used to the style. There is a lot to like about this book, I really enjoyed the setting of London and the West End. The connection to the theatre makes for a lot of drama and chaos, and when all was solved I could only agree with Penrose
`God, it´s like something out of a Greek tragedy´
For the most part I thought that Upson wrote well, some passages were even beautiful. But a couple of times I noticed that she spelled things out that were unnecessary and I rather felt like she thought I was too stupid to figure it out myself. It didn´t happen too often but enough to irritate me:
`Don´t you think it´s a little late for such a sudden change of heart, X?´Y said, emphasising the last word in a way which scorned the relationship.
I didn´t want to spoil the mystery for anyone so I hope you still get the meaning with the substituted X and Y. Perhaps I´m just being picky but I really felt it unnecessary to explain, especially since the the word is put into italics and thus emphasized enough.
Upson wonderfully recreates the atmosphere of the 1930s though, which is probably why I found the book so depressing at first. Most of the characters have lost someone in the war or have been in the war and have been irrevocably changed by it. The description of London in the 30s was also beautiful, I could practically imagine walking down St Martin´s Lane to see Richard of Bordeaux.
A lot of the characters were also surprisingly open about their sexuality, I suppose the theatre was a bit of a protected haven in which they did not have to hide their homosexuality. But some characters really tell Penrose a lot of private details. Still, Upson mostly creates interesting three dimensional characters. I liked their strong opinions about the horror of war, how it currupts all sides, the stance the female characters took that they deserved to expect work and love, and I felt for the victim´s uncle who for the first time in his life has someone looking at him in fear and is forever changed by it.
I mostly liked Archie Penrose and the theatre crowd. I also enjoyed sergeant Fallowfield´s character, he makes for a bit of comic relief with his crazy driving and love of detective fiction but is still competent. Josephine Tey I found to be a bit bland as a character, but she slowly grew on my towards the end so perhaps I´ll like her more in the next book.
So yes, I´m curious about the second book even though I did not love this book. It´s still a good book which I would recommend to you, I´m just very picky when it comes to mystery novels and I think I would have enjoyed this one more if it had just been a novel and not a mystery.
Some of my favorite passages:
“The bars on her small electric fire, inadequate at the best of times, had not glowed for many days now, as every spare penny she earned was spent on words rather than heat.” (55)
“Cancer had a habit of eroding morally as well as physically, and everything he loved was under threat.” (65)
“`Brisena?´ Fallowfield looked blank. `My typewriter. I dedicated the book to her because she worked so hard to finish it.” (83)
“`Women need both- love and work- and these days they can have it. Lydia´s got the right to expect both.” (130)
“But he said the crowds in the city as war broke out were really quite terrifying: when the population was united like a mob, all the instincts of hatred and prejudice were given free rein and nobody questioned them. It was as if everyone had reverted to innate violence, with all the reason and mercy just swept away.´” (179)
“The worst thing was the way they stamped on any solidarity between the women; it would have been bearable if we could have helped each other through it, but we were constantly seperated and played off against one another (. . .).” (267)
“(. . .) even now there was an unbearable void between those who had fought it and those who had not (. . .)” (288)
Have any of you read Josephine Tey´s mysteries and can recommend one to me?