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Posts Tagged ‘Josephine Tey’

Infamous Cambridge spy Guy Burgess had a cameo earlier this year in Joseph Kanon’s Cold War novel Defectors, but he practically steals the show in John Lawton’s excellent new Inspector Troy tale, Friends and Traitors (Grove/Atlantic, library e-book). It’s the eighth book in the crime series where history regularly meets mystery as Scotland Yard’s Frederick Troy dodges bombs in World War II London (Black Out), or protects Khruschev on a 1956 UK visit (Old Flames), or is tangled in the political scandals of the  early ’60s (A Little White Death).

In this entry, Lawton plays the long game, beginning with police cadet Troy first meeting Burgess at a family dinner in 1935. Both his Russian emigre/press baron father and his older brother warn him that the charming Burgess is bad news, “queer as a coot,” a notorious gossip, a possible spy. Still, Troy is intrigued by Burgess, who keeps showing up at various venues and times before, during and after the war. Then in 1951, Burgess and Donald MacLean defect to the Soviet Union, and their betrayal, along with that of Kim Philby, upends the British intelligence community for years. And that’s still the case in 1958 when a sad and pathetic Burgess approaches Troy during a family trip to Europe and says he wants to return to England. The ensuing imbroglio in Vienna results in the shooting of an MI5 agent, and Troy must defend himself against charges of murder and treason. All of this plays out in a string of atmospheric set pieces and charged exchanges of dialogue among the well-drawn cast of friends, family, lovers and spies.

The Troy books can be read out of order as stand-alone thrillers, but you run the risk of finding out the fate of characters and cases featured in other stories. Sudden death and reversals of fortune mark Troy’s complicated professional and private life, but that just makes the series all the more rewarding.

In 1939 Prague, with the Nazis on the doorstep, a woman named Otylie hopes to save her most treasured possession — an inherited musical manuscript of unknown authorship — by tearing it into three pieces. One movement of the sonata goes to her best friend Irena, the second goes to her husband in the Resistance, and the third she keeps for herself as she flees the country. Some 60 years later, Meta, a young musicologist who trained as a concert pianist, chances on one of the sonata’s movements and sets out to find the missing pieces and reunite them with their rightful owner. She also must prove the manuscript’s authenticity and perhaps discover who authored the haunting composition.  Bach? Beethoven? Maybe Mozart or Salieri?

Bradford Morrow details Meta’s daunting quest in his new historical novel The Prague Sonata (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), and I do mean details.  The premise is fascinating, the characters interesting, the plot hopscotches in time and place — Prague, London, New York, Nebraska. But the pace is uneven, the transitions often jarring, and the narrative so weighted with detail that it tested my will to read on. Students of music and history may well be enthralled, and I was at times because Morrow is an accomplished storyteller.  (I love Trinity Fields, thought The Forgers was clever and entertaining). But, at least in this case, too much of a good thing was still too much.

Nicola Upson’s detective series featuring real-life mystery writer Josephine Tey just keeps getting better as she artfully mixes history and fiction. Fear in the Sunlight played out against the set of an Alfred Hitchcock film, while London Rain‘s backdrop was the 1937 coronation of King George VI. In the seventh book, Nine Lessons (Crooked Lane Books, digital galley), Upson draws on the real-life crimes of the Cambridge Rapist, although she has him terrorizing women in 1937 Cambridge. Josephine is house-sitting for her lover, actress Marta Hallard, who is away on business. The tension and unease in town and at the colleges is palpable as the attacks on women escalate to include murder.

At the same time, Josephine’s great friend, Scotland Yard detective Archie Penrose, is investigating a gruesome murder in a London graveyard. The trail eventually leads him to Cambridge, a college choir and a long-ago death. What makes this second story especially chilling is the discovery that the London murder is tied to a series of ghost stories by M.R. James, who taught at Cambridge. The vengeful killer takes cruel delight in replicating disturbing details of James’ spooky tales. Then there’s the big secret that Josephine is keeping from Archie that could profoundly alter their relationship.

 

 

 

 

 

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murderofmaryYes, there’s a pool of blood. Yes, Mary Russell, the intrepid young wife of Sherlock Holmes, is missing. Yes, housekeeper Clara Hudson smells gunsmoke. No, I don’t believe that Mary is dead, despite the title of Laurie R. King’s latest installment in her long-running series, The Murder of Mary Russell (Bantam, digital galley).

Still, King leaves readers in suspense and Mary’s fate up in the air shortly after she confronts an Australian visitor to her farmhouse claiming to be Mrs. Hudson’s long-lost son. Mrs. Hudson returns home from shopping to discover an empty house, a broken cup, gunsmoke, blood and no Mary. From there, King jumps back to give us Mrs. Hudson’s complicated and surprising history, beginning with the unlikely romance between her Scottish mother and seafaring father. Said dad is a charming con man and grifter, and, growing up in Australia, little Clarissa is his most apt pupil. Her talent for disguises and playacting helps her in her quest to make something of herself, despite her father and spoiled younger sister. Eventually, too, she crosses paths in London with a young Sherlock Holmes and transforms into Mrs. Hudson. But what about Mary? Soon, back at the farm, Holmes is on the case with Mrs. Hudson’s help, and Mary herself is doing her cunning best to stay alive.

Longtime fans of the series will be especially entertained by King’s take on Mrs. Hudson, and a neat little twist near book’s end hints that she’s still keeping secrets.

londonrainNicola Upson has forged a nice career as a mystery writer with her series featuring real-life mystery writer and playwright Josephine Tey. Set in the 1930s and replete with period detail, they have the atmosphere of the Golden Age mysteries of Agatha Christie and Tey herself.

In London Rain (HarperCollins, digital galley), it’s the summer of 1937, and the capital city is readying for the coronation of King George VI. Tey is in London to sit in on rehearsals at Broadcast House for the BBC radio adaptation of one of her plays. She meets Vivienne Beresford, an editor at Radio Times, and soon witnesses her public humiliation when her husband, famed announcer Anthony Beresford, is revealed to be having an affair with a well-known actress. On air during the coronation, Beresford is felled by a gunshot, and his wife is the obvious suspect. Josephine’s friend, Scotland Yard detective Archie Penrose, is handling what appears to be an open-and-shut case. But then a jailed Vivienne asks to see Josephine, a second corpse is discovered and Josephine’s theatrical connections and detecting skills come into play. Throughout, too, Josephine’s private life is complicated by her lover, actress Marta Hallard.

Upson’s psychologically astute novels make me want to go back and reread my favorite Tey mysteries: The Daughter of Time, The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar. Talk about some twists.

 

 

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biglittleYikes! I’ve been gone a month. Wish I could say I’d been to Fillory via Lev Grossman’s The Magician’s Land, but that enchanted journey still awaits. But, as in Fillory, time has passed differently for me ever since I had surgery four weeks ago. Either the anesthesia’s lingering effects have played havoc with my mind and/or it’s triggered lupus brain fog. I’m having trouble remembering both what I read before the surgery and the few books I’ve managed since then. Can’t seem to concentrate, or maybe I’ve just overdosed on middle-of-the-night reruns of Frasier.   “maybe I seem a bit confused . . . Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs!”

But it’s still summer, and the wave of books continues, more than enough to carry us into fall. Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies (Putnam, digital galley) is clever escapist entertainment, constructed like a good jigsaw puzzle. Readers know from the outset that Something Terrible happened at Piriwee elementary school’s annual fundraiser. But who fell off a balcony? And  is it an accident, suicide, murder?! Moriarty takes us back six months to detail the actions of several of the school’s mothers and their assorted partners and offspring. As secrets big and little come to light, they illuminate issues of bullying, domestic abuse, snobbery and violence. It’s all good dark fun.

silkworm“Fun” is not the word to describe J.K. Rowling’s The Silkworm (Little, Brown, purchased e-book), her second Comoran Strike detective novel under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym. I read and reviewed the first one, The Cuckoo’s Calling, without knowing it was Rowling’s work, and quite enjoyed it. This time, I recognized her fingerprints — the odd names, the many literary allusions, the grotesque touches to the crime scene.  Strike and his assistant Robin make for an appealing pair; he is large and grouchy and damaged, while she is pretty, eager and engaged to someone else. Investigating the murder of a pompous author trussed and gutted like a pig, they discover motives aplenty in the back-stabbing literary world. The plot is complicated enough that I’m happy I read it before my brain got so muddled. I might need to read it again as I didn’t see the killer coming. Then again, neither did Strike until almost too late.

latescholarHave you ever wished there were more books by your favorite dead author? Jill Paton Walsh has continued the investigative adventures of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane in a stylish, pitch-perfect series. The fourth entry, The Late Scholar (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), finds Lord Peter, now the Duke of Denver, and his novelist wife returning to Oxford, which, in Sayers’ Gaudy Night, played such an important part in their lives.  So a certain nostalgia suffuses the leisurely tale as the couple meet up with old friends while trying to resolve the problem of the missing warden of St. Severin’s College, whose members are divided over the proposed sale of an ancient manuscript with ties to King Alfred. More than one visit to the Bodleian library and Blackwell’s bookstore are in order, as are apropos references to professors J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I think Sayers would approve.

lucykyteI’m not so sure how the very private Josephine Tey would feel about Nicola Upson’s series in which Tey herself turns detective, but these traditional British mysteries offer complex plots and vivid 1930s period detail. The fifth, The Death of Lucy Kyte (HarperCollins, digital galley), is set in the Suffolk countryside, where Tey has inherited a rundown cottage from her actress godmother, Hester Larkspur. Red Barn Cottage comes complete with a  nearby notorious murder, a possible ghost and Hester’s papers, which may well reveal more secrets about the author’s life and mysterious death. Speaking of mysterious, who is Lucy Kyte, who is also named in Hester’s will, and where on earth is she?

 

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poppetThis time last year Mo Hayder’s Gone picked up the Edgar award for best novel. Now comes the sixth in the Jack Caffery series, Poppet (Grove/Atlantic, digital galley), and it’s another winner — chilling, twisted, and oh-so-creepy. Caffery and the Bristol major crime unit are still searching for missing Misty Kitson when a series of patient suicides at the psychiatric hospital Beechwood arouses the suspicions of nurse supervisor AJ LeGrande. The deaths, several incidents of self-harming, and rumors of a terrifying apparition known as “the Maude” unsettle the staff and residents, and the hysteria extends to the community when a patient who killed his parents is mistakenly discharged. Hayder doesn’t spare graphic, gruesome details, but her demon-haunted characters, especially Caffery and diving expert Sgt. Flea Marley, drive the story.

toothCaffery’s turf isn’t far from the historic city of Bath, where Peter Lovesey’s astute, abrasive copper Peter Diamond gets a crash course in classical music in The Tooth Tattoo (Soho Press, digital galley). The body of a young Asian woman found in a Bath canal leads to a string quartet in residence. One of its former members mysteriously disappeared in Budapest four years ago, and the new violist is still adapting to his colleagues’ eccentricities when he is drawn into the police investigation of superfandom. Diamond may not know one note from another, but Lovesey obviously does, and the clever plot is enriched by the passions of its players.

perfectghostThe title of Linda Barnes’ adroit stand-alone The Perfect Ghost (St. Martin’s, digital galley) refers not to a supernatural phantom but to Em More, one-half of the successful ghost-writing team of T.E. Blakemore. When the other half, charismatic Teddy Blake, dies in a car wreck, timid-mouse Em fights her agarophobia to finish their current project, the “autobiography” of famous director Garrett Malcom. She braves Malcolm in his Cape Cod home where he is working on a new version of Hamlet, and soon falls for her charming subject even as she suspects he is harboring secrets. Replete with clever Shakespearean references, the narrative’s as tense as a tight-rope when Barnes gives it a sudden, head-spinning twist. Em’s a little bit Ophelia, a bit more Jane Eyre, and very much  herself.

fearFamous mystery writer Josephine Tey and famous movie director Alfred Hitchcock meet in Nicola Upson’s Fear in the Sunlight (HarperCollins, digital galley), the fourth in this excellent series featuring Tey as sleuth. In 1953, an American visitor’s surprise announcement forces former Chief Inspector detective Archie Penrose to recall the strange events of the summer of 1936 when Tey and her theatrical friends gathered at a resort in Wales to celebrate Tey’s 40th birthday. Hitchcock and his wife Alma arrange to meet Tey in hopes she’ll agree to a film of “A Shilling for Candles.” But Hitchcock, who delights in unsettling pranks, is upstaged by the real-life murder of a Hollywood actress in a nearby cemetery, and Penrose and Tey are left to sort out a bevy of suspects and motives. Upson neatly meshes fact and fiction, and her characterizations of Hitch and Alma appear delightfully spot-on. 

parrotsCrime briefs:  The animals, including a profane parrot, a talkative tabby and a rebellious raccoon, steal the show in Clea Simon’s entertaining new Pet Noir mystery, Parrots Prove Deadly (Poisoned Pen Press, ARC), as Pru Marlowe detects misdeeds involving a nursing home, a shady doctor and horrible heirs.

                             gordonston                                                                                                                                          I would have liked to see more of the pampered pets in Duncan Whitehead’s The Gordonston Ladies’ Dogwalking Club (Dog Ear Publishing, digital galley), in which Savannah neighbors meet for afternoon cocktails and gossip. When one of their own, Thelma Miller, dies (bless her heart), the friends hone in on the widower, and jealousies, secrets and lies lead to an unmarked grave and an overheated mystery.

TuesdaygoneNicci French follows up Blue Monday with the twisty Tuesday’s Gone (Pamela Dorman/Viking, digital galley), another tale with an off-putting beginning. But psychotherapist Frieda Klein only seems detached when she agrees to help the police investigate the case of a mentally ill woman living with an unidentified corpse. 

killowenThere are two bodies buried in the bog in Erin Hart’s layered The Book of Killowen (Scribner, digital galley). One is a well-preserved corpse from the ninth-century, the second that of a recently gone-missing TV personality with controversial views. Both present quite the puzzle for archaeologist Cormac Maguire and pathologist Nora Gavin, who are bunking at at nearby artists’ colony.

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I’ve hardly unpacked and I’m already getting itchy feet. Not today, nor tomorrow, but sometime soon I’ll want to go somewhere else for a bit. Considering the state of my budget and my health, I best be content with living in Florida (yeah, it’s tough this time of year!) and letting my fingers do the wandering, flipping through pages of books of faraway places.

And I have just the guidebook, librarian extraordinare Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds, and Dreamers. It follows Book Lust, More Book Lust and Book Crush, which are musts for everyone wondering what to read or reread next. 

I have never met Nancy Pearl, although I did interview her by phone when the Sentinel started its “One Book, One Community” reading program in 2002 with E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. When she was at the Seattle Public Library, Nancy developed the program, “If All of Seattle Read the Same Book,” which spread across the country. I remember her applauding our choice of Charlotte’s Web, and then we went off on a tangent about other books that had absolutely nothing to do with the story at hand.

Now I listen to her recommended reading on NPR’s Morning Edition and follow her at her website, on Facebook and Twitter. She was recently named Librarian of the Year and was the cover girl for Library Journal. And she has her own action figure. How cool is that?!

We have exchanged occasional e-mails on the virtues of various books — we are both fond of Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair — and periodically wonder why some favorite authors of yesteryear (Elizabeth Cadell, for instance)  have gone out of print.  I always smile when she singles out a book I adore (Robin McKinley’s vampire novel Sunshine), and when she tweets that she just loves Jo Walton’s new book, Among Others, I order it ASAP. I trust her. 

Back to Book Lust to Go. It’s divided into short sections, “A is for Adventure” to “Zipping through Zimbabwe/Roaming Rhodesia,” and you can hop on and off at any spot, as if on a tour bus. The commentary is witty. On Ireland: “Let’s not start with James Joyce and just say we did, okay?”

Hong Kong is a place I’ve visited only via books and movies, and I’ve read several of Book Lust’s recommendations: Janice Y.K. Lee’s The Piano Teacher, Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha, John le Carre’s The Honourable Schoolboy. Up next for me, Gail Tsukiyami’s Night of Many Dreams. I’m also going to reread The Honourable Schoolboy, which Nancy loved on first reading but can’t bring herself to reread because of what she “perceived as its desperate sadness.” Yes, but it’s sooo good, and the middle book in the Smiley trilogy.

Off to Venice, where I once spent a solitary Sunday because my traveling companion had tummy trouble. After finding him some Gatorade (no translation needed), I wandered the city, keeping in mind Donna Leon’s series of mysteries starring Commissario Guido Brunetti, Henry James’ Wings of the Dove, and Salley Vickers’ charming Miss Garnet’s Angel. I even went in search of the church in Vickers’ novel only to find it covered in scaffolding and closed for restoration. If I ever get back, I’ll look for it again.

 Meanwhile, I’ve never read Mary McCarthy’s Venice Observed. And I’m going to shop my shelves for John Berendt’s The City of Falling Angels, Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy and the Great World, and Sarah Caudwell’s Thus was Adonis Murdered. I may need a map to find them, though.

But who needs a plane ticket? In my fabulous new armchair, and with Nancy Pearl as my guide, I’m off to see the world.

Open Book: I bought my copy of Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust to Go (Sasquatch Books), a handy paperback to take on your Grand Tour. The chair’s from Pier One.

 

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During my recent malaise, I happened on Joan Acocella’s excellent story in the August 16th edition of The New Yorker, “Queen of Crime,” about how Agatha Christie created the modern murder mystery. It reminded me how I went straight from Nancy Drew and The Dana Girls to Christie’s whodunits and never looked back. She ushered me into the so-called golden age of detective fiction and the works of Sayers, Marsh, Tey, Allingham; nourished the Anglophile in me; and gave me an enduring affection for her tea-cozy, sherry-sipping, body-in-the-library puzzles. (I must say I was truly disappointed when I first tasted sherry; what sounded delicious was sweetly vile.)

Acocella also reminded me of my frustration at trying to figure out those puzzles, not only because of Christie’s use of red herrings and double bluffs but also because she withheld vital information  revealed only at the end, usually by the detective who had gathered all the suspects together. And, as Acocella writes, “Christie’s novels crawl with imposters. Letty is not really Letty; she’s Lotty, the sister of Letty. And Hattie isn’t Hattie. She’s a piece of trash from Trieste, who, with her husband, Sir George, killed Hattie (who was also married to him) and assumed her identity.”

I remembered this most recently while watching a rerun of PBS’s Mystery! and one of the latest reincarnations of Miss Marple (a very good Julia McKenzie). I almost immediately spotted the imposter and identified the culprit, but that may be because I remembered reading the book years ago.

I decided to see if rereading a Christie would arouse me from my languid lupus stupor. Only I wanted one where I couldn’t remember the ending. So I went for her very famous And Then There Were None because  while I knew the conceit — 10 people on an island bumped off one-by-one — I’d forgotten the details, and it’s been ages since I’ve seen the movie.

Well, it’s still a corker! Clever, suspenseful, and carefully plotted with stereotypical Christie characters — the spinster, the old military gentleman, the young woman, the too-handsome young man, etc.) I had forgotten how funny she could be; also how racist and anti-Semitic (Acocella noted this as well). I also found quite lovely foreshadowing: “There was something magical about an island — the mere word suggested fantasy. You lost touch with the world — an island was a world of its own. A world, perhaps from which you might never return.”

After finishing Christie in one evening, I remembered that after reading The Franchise Affair earlier this summer, I was going to reread more Josephine Tey. Trying to decide which one I remembered the least about, I came upon the next best thing to a new  Tey mystery — Nicola Upson’s first two entries in a series set in 1930s Britain with Josephine Tey as the sleuth.

I devoured both An Expert in Murder and Angel with Two Faces. They’re a well-written, atmospheric mix of fact and fiction — the real Tey was one of the pseudonyms of the very private Elizabeth Mackintosh (1890-1952), who also wrote popular plays as Gordon Daviot. Both books use the theater world as backdrop (the West End in 1934, Cornwall in 1935), and I’m eagerly awaiting a third installment. But right now, I seem to have worked up quite a thirst. I’m positively longing, dear, for a nice cup of tea.

Open Book: I couldn’t find a copy of And Then There Were None in my paperback Christie collection, so I down-loaded an e-book version to my nook. Its cover is not the one pictured here because the title on the internet image is And Then There Where None (!). I bought the trade paperback copies of Nicola Upson’s An Expert in Murder and Angel with Two Faces (Harper) because I want to share them with my mother.

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I’m home in hot, sunny Florida. Did you miss me? It’s ok to say no because I wasn’t thinking about books  much while on vacation in western Canada. Too much gorgeous scenery to look at. And while the weather  felt blessedly cool to us Southerners, it was warm for residents. I had to resist the impulse to make a snow angel on the Athabasca Glacier because it was mushy/slushy in the sun. Still, the ancient ice beneath our feet measured somewhere between 300 and 1,000 feet deep. Pretty cool, eh?

So, I did have my nook — Nanook — with me, and it sure beat hauling a bunch of books along on the trip. But I overpacked even e-books, misled perhaps by the “Reading Woman” calendar from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts above my desk.  The painting for July is John George Brown’s wonderful “Reading on the Rocks.” What was I thinking? I can read on planes but not in cars or trains. At night, I was reading the back of my eyelids. It was still light when I fell asleep, and light again when I woke up. 

But I did get through two books, one old, one new, both recommended. Josephine Tey’s The Franchise Affair is one of my favorite rereads because after a few years I always forget the neat trickery of the plot. Was young Betty Kane really kidnapped by two eccentric women living in an isolated English country house, or is she the original pretty little liar? The book was written in 1949, but the tabloid hysteria it depicts is similar to today’s cable TV coverage. Now I want to go back and reread the rest of Tey’s tales, especially Brat Farrar and The Daughter of Time

David Nicholls’ One Day has been hailed as a British When Harry Met Sally, and it is to a degree, with Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew hooking up in the early ’80s on their last day of university only to go their separate, intersecting ways. Nicholls catches up with them every July 15th — St. Swithin’s Day — as their youthful dreams melt in the big chill of real life and are then reshaped over the next 20 years. Growing up is hard to do. Funny, poignant, clever, heartbreaking — I bookmarked a dozen or more passages on the nook for rereading.  So it’s not as deep as a glacier. Pretty cool, though, for summer reading wherever.

Open Book: I have two copies of  Josephine Tey’s The Franchise Affair (Simon & Schuster), a mass market paperback here in Florida and a trade paperback at my mom’s in S.C. I picked up the latter the day before we left for Calgary and finished it a week later in Whistler. I purchased the e-book of David Nicholl’s One Day (Vintage Contemporaries) and read it on four planes from Vancouver to Orlando.

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