Nine Lessons (Josephine Tey Mystery #7)
Published by Faber & Faber (November 2017)
Source: My own purchased copy
My thanks to Sarah Hardy of Book on the Bright Side Publicity for the invitation to take part in the tour for the Morecambe & Vice blog tour. The Crime Writing Festival is taking place at The Midland Hotel, Morecambe on the weekend of 28 and 29 September – you can click here for more information about the festival, including a list of the authors attending.
For my turn on the tour, I was partnered with author Nicola Upson. Unfortunately Nicola’s latest Josephine Tey mystery, ‘Sorry for the Dead‘ number 8 in the series, which is to be published in November wasn’t available in time for review so instead I decided to review the previous book in the series that I had purchased back in 2017 – yes I know! But it was an ideal opportunity to actually read one of my own books for a blog tour!
I have a review of Nine Lessons later in the post but firstly Nicola kindly answered a few questions.
Q & A
Welcome to the blog Nicola. Can you tell us a little of your background
I was born in Suffolk, which is the setting for some of my books, and read English at Cambridge. I worked for several years at the Arts Theatre in Cambridge, a theatre built by the economist Maynard Keynes as a gift to the town and a stage for his wife, the ballerina Lydia Lopokova, to dance on, and that kindled a love of 1930s theatrical history which comes in very useful for my novels! I’ve also worked as an arts journalist and wrote a couple of non fiction books before my first novel was published.
I now live with my partner, Mandy Morton – also a crime writer – in Cambridge and Cornwall.
‘Sorry for the Dead’, to be published in November 2019, is the 8th book in the Josephine Tey crime series. Why did you choose crime author Josephine Tey to be the main character in your stories?
I loved her books and was fascinated by her life. She was a very well known playwright as well as a detective novelist, and it seemed strange that she hadn’t had her achievements recognised in a biography – so that was what I set out to write. I soon discovered that there were lots of gaps in what was known about her, and eventually those gaps became as intriguing as the facts. It was Mandy who said to me one day: ‘Oh, for God’s sake, make it up!’ I’d never written fiction before, but as soon as Mandy said that, I realised that was the sort of book I wanted to write about Tey – something that would explore what it felt like to live through those fascinating interwar years as an independent woman, what it was like to write detective fiction under the very real shadow of the death penalty, what it was like to be a gay woman in a much less accepting age than ours. She is such an interesting woman, and the more I write about her, the more I love her.
Is your Josephine Tey a completely fictionalised version, or do you research and incorporate aspects of the life of the author Josephine into your character?
The books follow her life and celebrate her work quite truthfully, rolling all that up in a fictional murder mystery each time. I was lucky when I was researching the biography that lots of her friends and colleagues were still alive, and I talked extensively to some of them, most memorably Sir John Gielgud, who starred in and directed her first West End play and became a lifelong friend. All those anecdotes and research material find their way into the novels.
Do you plan in detail or just write and see where the story takes you?
It varies from book to book. The early books were much more detailed in their early planning because the process of writing a novel was very new and I needed those signposts. Now I start with less and occasionally, as in The Death of Lucy Kyte, I write myself a mystery in the early chapters, posing a lot of questions and clues that I don’t know the answers to and solving them with Josephine as the book goes on. What’s common to all the books, though, is how influenced the plot is by the setting and the research.
Is there any part of the writing process which you enjoy the most (or find the most difficult) – i.e. researching, writing, editing?
I always enjoy the research, and Mandy and I do a lot of that together, which is fun. I find the first third of a book really hard, as so many of the characters are strangers to me. Perversely, I love editing my own work – taking out all the words I sweated to put in!
Are there any authors whose books have made an impact on you? What type of book do you enjoy reading for pleasure, and what are you reading now
Josephine Tey, obviously – she was ahead of her time as a crime writer and paved the way for all of us who have come since. PD James was hugely influential, as a writer and as a friend. I love writers like Barbara Pym and Stella Gibbons. I love Irish novels and rural settings, and one of my favourite books of all time is A Month in the Country, which I’ll probably spend my life wanting to emulate! And I’ve recently finished Melissa Harrison’s All Among the Barley, which is beautiful and devastating and haunts me still.
Thank you so much Nicola. Having now read one of your books, I think your Josephine Tey is a wonderful character.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Books of 2017. Longlisted for the 2019 New Angle Prize for Literature.
Josephine Tey is in Cambridge, a town gripped by fear and suspicion as a serial rapist stalks the streets, and in the shadow of King’s College Chapel, Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose faces some of the most horrific and audacious murders of his career.
The seventh novel in Nicola Upson’s highly praised series featuring Josephine Tey takes the reader on a journey from 1930s Cambridge to the bleak and desolate Suffolk coast – a journey which will ultimately leave Archie’s and Josephine’s lives changed forever.
REVIEW OF NINE LESSONS
Nine Lessons is the seventh in this series but the first one I have read. Having said that, jumping in partway through didn’t impact on my enjoyment at all and this can easily be read on its own without prior knowledge and loss of enjoyment.
Set in 1937, there are actually two mysteries here to be solved. One is a series of murders beginning in Hampstead, London, with the particularly cruel killing of a church pianist being investigated by DCI Archie Penrose of New Scotland Yard and another in Cambridge, where a brutal rapist is attacking single women in their homes.
There is clearly a backstory with Archie and his current on/off lover Bridget and a former love interest, writer and playwright, Josephine Tey. Josephine is now living (or more correctly, house sitting as Marta is temporarily in the US) in Cambridge with her lover Marta, however she and Archie have retained a friendship which both find beneficial especially when it comes to helping Archie with his current case with Josephine acting as an amateur sleuth. When the rapist strikes close to home, Josephine gets more closely involved, whilst Archie finds that the trail of his murders takes him to the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk fens where he must find the connection between the murders before the killer strikes again.
I thought the two main characters of Josephine and Archie were superbly drawn with both having depth and that likeability factor. Josephine is a very strong character and is infuriated by the attitudes shown towards women during the rapist attacks. Initially there were some in the police that were not even taking the attacks seriously, even though some women were being seriously injured.
Although this is Josephine’s series, it was actually Archie Penrose who stood out for me in this story. From being injured during service in WW1, he had risen through the ranks to become a Detective Chief Inspector and suited that role extremely well. He was compassionate and thoughtful, and unlike some of his fellow officers, treated people with respect. It was an extremely complex case to try to solve, made all the more difficult by the timescale involved of some 20+ years and involving some people now in high profile positions, who were not keen on co-operating. Further, he had to do so without the advantage of any modern day policing methods like DNA testing, databases or sophisticated scene of crime investigation equipment.
Nine Lessons comprises a satisfying chilling and complex plot, the darkness of the murders being lightened with the occasional touch of humour from its main characters – I particularly enjoyed the interactions between Josephine and the awful cleaning lady and was cheering Josephine on at the end! There is also a personal dilemma involved for certain parties which has an impact on the story. I loved the Cambridge setting which was evocative and atmospheric. Having recently visited the city, I could easily visualise some of the landmarks referred to.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read which combines real life characters and events into a fictionalised story. On checking my booklist I do also have the first book in the series but I shall also now be buying the others. I do also want to read the next book when its published – I don’t know whether Archie Penrose features in this too, I do hope so as I would like there to be more of a continuation of his story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicola Upson was born in Suffolk and read English at Downing College, Cambridge. She has worked in theatre and as a freelance journalist, and is the author of two non-fiction works and the recipient of an Escalator Award from the Arts Council England. Her debut novel, An Expert in Murder, was the first in a series of crime novels to feature Josephine Tey – one of the leading authors of Britain’s age of crime-writing. The book was dramatised by BBC Scotland for Woman’s Hour, and praised by PD James as marking ‘the arrival of a new and assured talent’.
Nicola lives with her partner in Cambridge and Cornwall, which was the setting for her second novel, Angel With Two Faces. The third book in the series, Two for Sorrow, was followed by Fear in the Sunlight and, most recently, The Death of Lucy Kyte. Taken together, they paint an atmospheric picture of England between the wars, contrasting the stark reality of life in the 1930s and 40s with the glamorous world of theatre and film and featuring a variety of real characters, from the Edwardian murderers, Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, to the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Her research for the books has included many conversations with people who lived through the period and who knew Josephine Tey well, most notably Sir John Gielgud.