bookrev: An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson

An Expert in Murder by Nicola UpsonThis murder mystery, the first in a new series, features London settings, the West End and the stage, an excellent historical period (England between WWI and WWII). What more could you ask for? Well, for one, a plot where you cannot guess “whodunit”, which is the main reason I do not read very many mysteries. But Ms. Upson does herself proud: the plot is intricate and well thought out, the characters engaging and flawed, and the scenery described in detail but not boringly or intricately so.

Josephine Tey has authored the hottest play in London and takes the train from Scotland to see the plays closing and visit with friends. She meets a female fan on the plane but shortly after their arrival in London, that fan is murdered on the train (a murder on a train in a mystery?). The murderer dresses up the scene of the crime to indicate the act had something to do with Josephine’s play, and a second murder the next day occurs directly connected to the play. Josephine’s friend Inspector Archie Penrose leads the investigation, which begins to point to the actors and others associated with The New Theater in London.

Obviously to give away more would spoil the surprises, but the novel is populated with great characters:

  • Lydia, the leading lady of the play, who has a new female lover named Marta and is being told she is aging toward the end of her starring roles;
  • Aubrey, owner of The New Theater, wealthy, producer of the play, maker of careers, veteran of World War I as a tunneler, and carrying claustrophobia and a desire for vengeance from an occurence in the war; Ms. Upson’s descriptions give excellent background here (from page 50 of the ARC):
    “Today, as usual, he rejected the convenient option of a ten-minute journey to work courtest of the city’s underground railway and set off on foot. The peculiar atmosphere evoked by London’s tunnels was not for him, and he never failed to wonder at the willingness with which people now accepted darkness and confinement as a naturla part of their day-to-day existence. For Aubrey, the lingerings, acrid smell of those subterranean passageways brought back ghosts from a past he tried in vain to forget. Too old at forty-five to take part in the trench war but with a distinguished military record behind him, he had spent those terrible years as a tunneller in the guts of the French earth and had no wish to return to its horrors in his waking hours as well as in his nightmares.”
  • Fallowfield, Inspector Penrose’ sargeant.

The historical setting and it’s descriptions reminds me of Pat Barker’s Regeneration series; though it is set in a slightly earlier timeframe, the depiction of those who experienced and/or were affected by WWI is key to that time period and this story.

Enjoyable, well-paced and I look forward to the next in the series.

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