Fear in the Sunlight

Written by Nicola Upson
Review by Judith Starkston

In Nicola Upson’s fourth Josephine Tey mystery, nothing is what it appears—no surprise with Alfred Hitchcock involved. “Hitch” thinks he’s planning an elaborate gag to “explore fear and guilt,” but someone else has real murders in mind at the idyllic resort of Portmeirion in Wales. Josephine and her closest friends, including Chief Inspector Archie Penrose, have gone to the resort to celebrate Josephine’s fortieth birthday. Hitchcock wants to make a film from Tey’s A Shilling for Candles. Both Josephine and Archie renew old romances in the course of the mystery—Josephine with Marta, that complex relationship she has never fully allowed herself to pursue and Archie with someone unexpected from the war years.

What’s most engaging about this mystery is how tangled and complicated Upson has made the guilt and crimes. The book opens in 1954 with an American detective bringing a new confession to Archie about crimes committed in 1936. This teaser clues us to the emotional land mines this episode carries for Archie, but I dare you to figure out who the culprit is from the confession. Fractured family ties, mob mentality, Hollywood stars, power plays, young innocence and its loss, and human frailties that will speak deeply to your heart—there’s a great deal going on in this book. Amongst the most intriguing elements is Upson’s portrait of Alfred Hitchcock. Although the episode at Portmeirion is entirely fictional, the character study of the famous director is founded in research and interviews. I found it fascinating—his inner uncertainty contrasted with his outward bravado, his dependence on his wife, his chilling delight in manipulation. Overall an excellent read.