Two For Sorrow
By Nicola Upson
Published by Faber and Faber
This, the third of Upson’s books in the series featuring detective writer Josephine Fey is set in London of the 1930s, where the men have been depleted by war, and women must band together. The protagonist, Josephine, is an independent woman of the time, living her days in a gentlewoman’s club, with her primary occupation at the moment, writing a book on the horrific baby farming practices that existed, precisely, in 1903, for which two women were hanged at Holloway Prison. Which is where the novel opens, with the hanging of the two women, a powerfully written piece of fiction, if any. Against this grim background Fey researches, a violent sadistic murder occurs of a young and beautiful seamstress who is working on the costumes for the club theatre performance occurs. And then yet another murder of a young lady. Fey is convinced that these two murders are somehow connected with the women who were executed at Holloway and sets about trying to unravel the skeins of clues.
Josephine Fey, Upson’s protagonist, is the pseudonym of a real writer Elizabeth Mackintosh who has written some notable crime fiction in that era, which infact detracts from the characterization of Fey. The plot is complex, and intricately layered, and therefore, the book is not the kind of read that allows you to breeze through it, in fact it demands your complete attention because sudden clues and nuggets of information slip through which enable the reader to piece together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of this latest whodunit, connecting it with the horrors of the older baby farming murders. What does seem a little ambigious is Fey’s relationship with Detective Archie Penrose of Scotland Yard, especially in the context of Marta, a woman earlier involved with Fey’s friend Lydia, a theatre actress, declaring her love for Fey, and Fey’s emotional turmoil over that declaration.
Upson’s sense of detail and atmosphere is impeccable. Through subtle touches, she recreates the gloominess of the 30s London, contrasted with the forced vitality of the then London theatre scene. The research and the attention to details comes through, whether the horrible lives of the underprivileged in Post WW 1 London, or the gaiety filled lives of the upper crusts, filling their days with charity galas, balls and dinners. If you enjoy historical fiction and crime, this novel might just be the one to cuddle up with on a rainy evening.