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I downloaded this book from Audible during one of their recent sales. I had no previous experience with either the author or the narrator. Davina Porter does a good job. Her voice is a bit mature, but the historical inflections (Edwardian and 1930's) are quite good. It was a pleasure to listen to her read this book. A good narrator adds a whole new dimension to a story.
On to the book. This book deals with a great many issues that were significant at the time (and remain significant.
It opens with a scene in a women's prison where a prisoner is being prepared to go to her death. The viewpoint is that of a female prison warden. The prisoner is an actual historical figure, the operator of a lying-in house where women could go to give birth. She was convicted of being an accomplice in the death of at least one child left in her hands by desperate mothers. She leaves behind a daughter of her own in the care of her husband, who was not considered a party to her crimes although they lived in the same house. This scene (in the book)was written by Miss Tey, based on information provided to her by a former school mistress.
The plot is too complicated to go into more detail. However it deals with betrayal, familial love, death penalty and its unintended consequences, poverty, careers for women and social history. There's also some entertaining gossip about historical figures of the theatre.
It's important to remember that after World War I there were changes in English society. The death or disability of a good portion of a whole generation of young men left women with new responsibilities and opportunity. Sexual relationships were both more open and more divergent from the stated norm. Novels written in the period, specifically Mary Renault's contemporary set novels, supports this without having to recourse to historical sources. I thought the author handled this aspect sensitively within the themes of trust and betrayal.
Recommended for the fans of grittier mysteries. It's not light reading (or listening), but I couldn't turn it off.
(And for those who are interested, Claymore house where Amelia Sach took in her clients still stands and there is a picture of it along with the research of a descendent on the Daily Mail web site.)
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
I was very conflicted by the two books in this series to which I listened. On the one hand, Nicola Upson is a good writer. The subject of "Two for Sorrow", although difficult and horrifying (it's about Victorian baby murders), is explored with delicacy and nuance. Upson reflects author Josephine Tey's interest in exploring sensational historical themes with an eye toward sifting through the more hysterical claims in an attempt to find a more objective truth (just listen to Tey's wonderful "The Daughter of Time"}. Although the criminals here cannot be sympathetic, Upson (through her fictionalized version of Tey) attempts to put these "monsters" in some context.
That said, my primary argument with the books (I also read "An Expert on Murder") is one of fairness to a real-life, prominent character who has been fictionalized. According to all accounts, Josephine Tey (one of two writing names used by Scottish author Elizabeth MacKintosh) was an extremely private person. Despite success writing mystery novels and plays, she granted no interviews in her lifetime and did not even, in her final year of life, share with her closest friends and associates that she was fighting terminal cancer.
I have no argument with LGBTQ themes in literature. These topics can be appreciated by readers of all sexual orientations, and Upson presents lesbian characters with wit and sensitivity as just one of the plot elements in both books.
It's a fact that many mystery series employ authors of the past as sort-of detectives. Sometimes that can be fun, but I believe Josephine Tey especially would have hated being a character in these books - portrayed in any way, no matter how sympathetically. Should a modern author "invade" the privacy of a deceased fellow writer in such a manner? I'm certain there's nothing illegal in the practice - and perhaps not even anything unethical - but It makes me uneasy.
So, for Josephine Tey (a writer whose works I have very much enjoyed), I do not recommend this series. Read or listen to the original Tey novels instead.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful