Friday, August 26, 2011

Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson

Under the name Josephine Tey, Elizabeth Mackintosh wrote mysteries in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. The  Daughter of Time and The Franchise Affair were "re-workings of historical crimes." Now, in the third book in her mystery series, Two for Sorrow, author Nicola Upson supposes that Josephine Tey planned another historical mystery, working on it in 1935.

In 1903, two British women were hanged at Holloway Prison for the deaths of newborn babies. Amelia Sach and Annie Walters were known as the notorious "Finchley baby farmers," and it's that story Tey intends to fictionalize. As Tey researches the stories of the two women, she shares chapters of that intended book. But, the actions of those women, and those around them, have consequences that reach into Tey's own life.

Tey is staying in London at Cowdray Club, a social club for nurses and other professional women. Celia Bannerman, who manages the club, had been one of Josephine's teachers during the war. She was also one of the wardens who watched over Amelia Sach before her death. But the people, and the relationships, are very complicated in the book, in Tey's life, and in the story of Sach and Walters.

Josephine's lover was killed at the Somme, and his closest friend, Detective Inspector Archie Penrose, is her friend as well. Archie's cousins are two well-connected designers who are creating gowns for  women for the Cowdray Club's upcoming gala. When a young seamstress is brutally murdered in their shop, with another body found at the bottom of the stairs, Archie and his assistant, Sergeant Bill Fallowfield, investigate the case, discovering unusual connections to Amelia Sach.

Upson brilliantly incorporates true crime, actual celebrities of Tey's time, such as Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward, and fictional characters. Through Tey's writing, she brings the story of Sach, Walters, and other baby farmers to life, women who made money out of the large number of unwanted children in the early 20th century in England. She also brings the 1930s to life, with stories of life in England after WWI. Women took on new roles during the war, lost prospective husbands, and were then sometimes pushed aside when the war ended, expected to return to their old roles. Upson's writing is lush, evocative of the period.

Two for Sorrow is not just a mystery. It delves into Josephine Tey's personal life. Who was this woman who had two pseudonyms, lived in various locations, was a successful, famous author? Was she attracted to other women, as indicated in a diary written by an actress? In this book, she struggles with emotional involvement, torn between Archie and a woman, two people who claim to love her. An Expert in Murder and Angel with Two Faces introduced Nicola Upson and her version of Josephine Tey to crime fiction readers. Two for Sorrow delves deeper into the mystery of Tey herself.

Archie Penrose is actually the detective in the book, building on the research Tey already did. Penrose, in fact, is the more sympathetic character. He's a police detective who is struck with the realization that the young seamstress' death has an affect on the atmosphere in the building, as well as all the people connected to the victim. He doesn't see a murder as the story of a crime or an investigation, but the story of "how people pick up from there and carried on with their lives." That phrase sums up the murders in 1935, as well as the events surrounding the baby farmers. How did people carry on with their lives?

Upson succeeds in forcing readers to question beliefs. Who was Josephine Tey? Where is the equality in the justice system? Is it different for men and women? There are important questions in this quietly powerful mystery. What are repercussions of murder? Two for Sorrow asks readers to think about the consequences to all actions. How do people carry on with life after tragedy?

Nicole Upson's website is

Two for Sorrow by Nicole Upson. Harper. ©2010. ISBN 9780061451584 (paperback), 488p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I was sent this book to participate in the TLC book tour.


Liz V. said...

Loved Tey's books, particularly Daughter of Time, and there is precious little info about her. Interesting sounding series.

Lesa said...

I never read the first two books, Liz, but a co-worker read the first one, and thought it was terrific. This one was fascinating. I'm with you. Loved The Daughter of Time.

Karen C said...

More to add to the list. I really enjoy your reviews, Lesa.

Lesa said...

You always make me feel so good, Karen! Thank you.

Bev Stephans said...

I think this will have to go on the Wish List! I've read all of Tey's books, but know absolutely nothing about her. This book sounds very interesting.

Lesa said...

I haven't read the first two books in the series, Bev, but I heard good things about the first one. Hope you enjoy the books.

Anonymous said...

So glad you enjoyed this one - it sounds really good!

Thanks for being on the tour.

Lesa said...

It was good, Heather. Thanks for including me. I enjoyed discovering a new author.