Thursday, 8 March 2018

Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson

Nine Lessons is the seventh in Nicola Upson’s mystery series featuring real-life author Josephine Tey. It isn’t surprising that Upson chose Tey as her amateur sleuth, the 1930s period is so evocative of the classic Agatha Christie era and like Christie, Tey wrote whodunits herself.

But it’s good old Inspector Archie Penrose who does most of the legwork in this book. Archie is Josephine’s dear friend and the two have worked on a number of cases together. Archie even asks Josephine to do the odd bit of library research on his behalf – no police department computers in those days.

The story tees off with a truly grim murder. A well-known musician is found in a London churchyard, buried alive in a grave, in his pocket a picture fragment showing a country house. Archie discovers the house is in Cambridge, which is conveniently where Josephine has just relocated with her lover.

More victims turn up at regular intervals, each of them former members of the King’s College choir from just before World War I. Whatever is the terrible secret that they are hiding and will Archie get to the bottom of it before they all hand in their dinner pails? Upson throws in a connection to M R James, college Provost and author of deliciously creepy ghost stories, some of which are linked to the murders.

Meanwhile, Josephine’s new partner, Marta, has seen Archie’s wartime girlfriend from years ago in the company of her daughter – a daughter who looks amazingly like Archie. The problem is Archie doesn’t know he has a daughter. This makes an interesting subplot with plenty of emotional conflict, while a serial rapist on the loose in Cambridge keeps the police force busy.

Nine Lessons is a tightly plotted, well-paced whodunit, with loads of 1930s atmosphere. The crimes described are original and quite chilling, building to a climax that catches you by surprise. Add to that some first-class writing and well-considered characterisation, and you can see that Nicola Upson doesn’t put a foot wrong. Expecting a run of the mill period mystery, I was more than pleasantly surprised.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: Nine Lessons

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