An Expert in Murder, By Nicola Upson

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The Independent Culture

Elizabeth Mackintosh, who published mysteries under the name Josephine Tey, is now best remembered for her classic whodunit The Daughter of Time. In her day, however, she was more celebrated as the author of the West End hit, Richard of Bordeaux – a historical drama that starred John Gielgud and Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies. In this polished debut, Upson appropriates the persona of Tey, turning her into a fictional character of her own.

As the novel opens, Tey is travelling by train from her native Highlands to London, to watch the final run of her new play. A natural recluse, she nevertheless finds herself falling into conversation with a young fan, a hat-maker called Elspeth. To her horror, within moments of their arrival at King's Cross, Elspeth is found murdered – her chest punctured by a hat pin. To the rescue comes Detective Inspector Archie Penrose, an old friend of Tey's late lover, killed in the Somme.

Fans of period detective fiction will enjoy Upson's recreation of Thirties theatreland, and her mannered prose. Borrowing from contemporary accounts of thespian tiffs and backstage rivalries, she portrays London's demimonde as a shadowy place, still recovering from the privations of war. Another murder follows, as do revelations of a lesbian affair – something the real -life Tey could only suggest in her own fiction. In Upson's capable hands, the crime writer's second incarnation proves as intriguing and convincing as her first.