Sorry for the Dead by Nicola Upson: superbly plotted novel which brims with authentic dialogue, rich period detail and atmosphere - book review -

Sorry For The Dead
Sorry For The Dead
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The tragic death of a young girl on the Sussex Downs twenty-three years ago comes back to haunt crime writer Josephine Tey when she is named as a suspect in what some are now claiming was actually a murder.

The tragic death of a young girl on the Sussex Downs twenty-three years ago comes back to haunt crime writer Josephine Tey when she is named as a suspect in what some are now claiming was actually a murder.

Sorry for the Dead is the eighth book in Nicola Upson’s outstandingly intelligent and atmospheric Josephine Tey Mystery series, set in England between the wars and inspired by the Golden Age of crime writing.

For those new to a name which shone brightly in this period, Josephine Tey was a pseudonym used by the enigmatic Elizabeth Mackintosh, a Scottish author best known for her mystery novels of the 1940s and 50s.

Virtually unknown today, Tey has been given a new lease of life as the lead character in Cambridge graduate Upson’s cleverly plotted novels which see the best-selling crime author and playwright turn detective to solve cerebral mysteries and give voice to the downtrodden silenced by both society and history.

Elegant, sophisticated and beautifully written, the stories blend fact and fiction, contrasting the stark realities of everyday life in the 1930s and 40s with the glamorous world of theatre and film, and exploring hard-hitting issues that are as relevant today as they were eight or nine decades ago.

Here, we find Josephine in 1948, busy directing one of her own plays at Cambridge’s newly opened Arts Theatre, only to learn that a national newspaper is running a story about the violent death of a 16-year-old girl at a learning centre in East Sussex in 1915 when Josephine was a teacher there.

Actress Elizabeth Banks is convinced that the death of her twin Dorothy Norwood was not an accident and wants to find the truth of what happened at Charleston Farmhouse, near Lewes, which was turned into a horticultural college for girls during the Great War.

The house, now owned by Vanessa Bell, sister of Virginia Woolf, and Duncan Grant, was run by friends Georgina Hartford-Wroe and Harriet Barker, whose relationship set tongues wagging and brought terrible heartache for them both.

Pictures in the newspaper show Josephine, who was a keep-fit instructor at the college at the time of Dorothy’s death, making her a suspect in any new investigation. Fearing that her own same-sex relationship with partner Marta could be revealed by the newspapers, Josephine sets out to make her own enquiries.

But as past and present collide, and with murders decades apart, Josephine is forced to face the possibility that the scandal which threatened to destroy the lives of Georgina and Harriet hid a much darker secret.

The inspiration for Sorry for the Dead, Upson reveals, was a visit to Charleston, the East Sussex country home of artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and it is against the unconventional lifestyle and big names of the famous Bloomsbury group that the story plays out.

But Upson’s compelling mystery is as much a piercing and emotional study of friendship, loyalty, grief, prejudice, and forbidden love as it is a fascinating murder mystery, slipping effortlessly between places, people and timelines as the dark truth of Dorothy’s death is slowly and shockingly revealed.

And there are many moving moments in this superbly plotted novel which brims with authentic dialogue, rich period detail and atmosphere, and portrays each character with such exquisite precision that the reader can almost peer into the workings of their soul.

With its compelling fusion of fact and fiction, mystery and social insight, this is a series that grows in stature with every book.

(Faber & Faber, hardback, £12.99)