Two for Sorrow

Written by Nicola Upson
Review by Sarah Bower

This is the second in Upson’s planned series of crime novels featuring Josephine Tey, one of the doyennes of the so-called Golden Age of British crime writing in the 1930s. My first inclination was to describe it as a curate’s egg of a book but actually, it’s more of a club sandwich, one of those unwieldy constructions which tend to fall apart when you remove the skewer holding it together.

The novel is, on one level, a splendid crime caper, though I have to admit I’d identified the murderer less than halfway through and discerned her motive about a hundred pages from the end. This doesn’t matter, however, if, like me, you enjoy classic crime novels as much for their fidelity to the style and tropes of the genre as for the mystery to be solved.

The novel is a faultless homage to the Golden Age. It is, however, spoilt for me by an awkwardly bolted-on love story and by Upson’s inclusion at sporadic intervals of ‘extracts’ from a novel being written by Josephine herself about a turn of the century crime which turns out to have a bearing on the 1930s investigation. This was a real crime, but, as Josephine is fictionalising it, I fail to see what it adds to the uber-fiction of the main narrative. The love story is, in itself, complex and fascinating, and offers an insight into the status of lesbian relationships at this period when sexuality was determined as much by the loss of a generation of young men to the First World War as by personal preference or sexual hard-wiring. When, however, Upson repeatedly breaks off as the hunt for the murderer reaches its climax and switches to Josephine’s emotional turmoil as she drifts between two interconnected love triangles, it just becomes plain frustrating.

Some delicious bits but unwieldy – just like a club sandwich.