Another week, another post about a mystery series. This time it’s Nicola Upson’s Josephine Tey mysteries as the new one comes out next week (and I’ve even read it!
This is another mystery series based on a real life person solving mysteries, usually murders – in this case the crime writer Josephine Tey. She was a playwright as well as a novelist – and the first book in the series is set in the final week of the run of one of her plays, when a woman Josephine met on the train to London is murdered and the detective investigating thinks Josephine may be at risk. In the grand tradition of the books of the era, the detective, Archie Penrose, is connected to Josephine and becomes part of the cast of regular characters.
As you may have surmised these have their roots in the golden age detective novels that I love but several are also inspired by real crimes. And perhaps is the latter that means that these are always darker than you expect and on the edge of being too dark or bleak for me. I have read seven of the ten in the series and one of my reviews on goodreads say things like “these are consistently grimmer than I want them to be”. I’ve also read them out of order – and my note on the first says that if I’d read that one first, I might not have continued with the series. All of which I realise sounds a bit down on them. But for all that they are on the edge for me on the grim scale, I know that my line is a long way back from the sort of thrillery, psychological crime that a lot of other people really like – and this is closer to the historic version of that. And I do really like the 1930s world that you see in the books, so here’s a bit more about book 10 to show you what I mean.
Dear Little Corpses starts as the mass evacuation of children takes place in London. Josephine and Marta are at Josephine’s cottage in Suffolk where the village is preparing for an influx of children. In London, Archie is investigating the death of a rent collector before heading down to visit them for the village fete and so Josephine can meet the woman that he has started seeing. But at the fete a young girl goes missing without a trace and the search for her threatens to expose long hidden secrets in the community. The portrait of the village waiting for the evacuees is great and this also goes over into Essex and places that I am actually familiar with and I’m a total sucker for that. But I spent a lot of this hoping that it was going to all turn out ok and thinking that this was going to be one of the less bleak books in the series – and then boom, the ending happened and it was every bit as bad as it could be and a little bit more. And that’s the story of the series: I go in wanting it to be much closer to the lighter, cozy mystery end of the historical crime series spectrum than it is and at the end.
At some point I will read the biography of Josephine Tey that I have sitting on the to be read bookshelf and see how the facts of her actual life stack up to the books, but for now I can’t really vouch for that either way. If you want to dip your toe in the water and see if they suit you, I have some suggestions: London Rain was the first in the series that I read, and is the one I have liked the most – and I don’t think it’s just because it’s set around the recording of a radio play. The Death of Lucy Kyte is the first one set in the village that also features in Dear Little Corpses, and Fear in the Sunlight is set in Portmeiron and features Alfred Hitchcock and the 1930s film industry. So there are plenty of options. As you can see from the cover montage, they’ve been through two designs for the covers so they should be fairly easy to get hold of – Dear Little Corpses came from NetGalley but I’ve had copies of others in the series from the library (ebook and actual book) as well as the charity shop and the dearly departed magic bookshelf at work.
Happy Friday everyone