An Expert In Murder
- Nicola Upson
It is March 1934, and Josephine is travelling from Scotland to London for the final week of her celebrated play Richard of Bordeaux - but joy turns to horror when her arrival coincides with murder. Detective Inspector Archie Penrose is convinced that the killing is connected to the play. Richard of Bordeaux has been the surprise hit of the season, with pacifist themes which strike a chord in a world still haunted by war, but now it seems that Josephine could become the victim of her own success, as her reputation - and even her life - are put at risk. As his investigations lead him from the romance of the West End to the stark reality of the trenches, he and Josephine must confront their own ghosts in a search for someone who will stop at nothing to right the wrongs of a past generation.
Set in London’s theatre-land in the late 1930s, An Expert In Murder is a throwback to the old fashioned murder mysteries where motive and alibi are more important than physical evidence. The period feels authentic with men and women ‘stepping out’ together and plays are popular form of entertainment for the masses. The spectre of the future hardships doesn’t appear here despite the late 30s era, but it feels as everyone is still haunted by the shadow of The Great War – whether they were fighting or not on the front. Indeed the fear and actions of the past loom large over every character in this novel – especially when they contemplate their futures.
The murder mystery itself is intriguing, and plunges headlong into the social and economic ideals of the theatre where everyone has their own secrets and desires. The writing feels traditional and adds to the atmosphere. However, I never really felt connected to any of the characters. The heroine, Josephine Tey, based on a popular but mysterious real-life writer and playwright, always feels aloof and impersonal. She never really seemed to express emotion and as such I always felt like I was following a friendly and polite stranger. Other characters experienced similar issues, although Archie Penrose, the detective was more involving –especially his feelings for Josephine which are not discussed, but shine through in his actions.
There are a number of red herrings scattered about, especially in the early half of the book which add depth and intrigue but many of these are dropped without resolution. While this adds to the mystery in the beginning but does leave you feeling a little bereft by the end – which does show how strong small glimpses of secondary characters can be! Overall, this was fun, traditional murder mystery in a forgotten era and made a pleasant change in my reading matter for a few days.
Recommended for fans of Agatha Christie and Carola Dunn. 7 out of 10