Sorry for the Dead: A Josephine Tey Mystery

Written by Nicola Upson
Review by Susan McDuffie

1938: Josephine Tey reads a distressing and somewhat salacious newspaper article just as her new play is about to open. The article refers to events some twenty-three years earlier, when Josephine spent a summer as a student teacher at a girls’ school in Sussex. A schoolgirl died, and Josephine witnessed the grisly death, later ruled an accident. The article brings back disturbing memories and whiffs of old scandal. At the urging of her lover, Marta, Josephine decides to revisit the scene of the death.

This mystery unfolds from 1915 to 1948, with portions of the novel taking place in 1915, 1938, and 1948. Death stands sentinel at both the beginning and the end. The passing years bring new revelations to light, like a complex puzzle box, which opens fully to yield more tragedy.

This is the first of Upson’s Josephine Tey mysteries I have read. The skilled writing evokes a deep sense of place; the complex character development intrigues. This novel alludes a bit to Tey’s book The Franchise Affair, and I felt my experience might have been a tad enriched if I had been more familiar with that mystery, or had read the other books in this series, but no matter—this novel stands well enough on its own. The somewhat unsettling ending ties the book together, although to me it lacked that satisfying feeling of justice done. Themes of sacrifice and loss pervade this mystery, just as the Great War and its aftermath lingered on in the psyches of those who survived it. Recommended.