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Sunday, 17 February 2013

Review: An Expert in Murder, Nicola Upson, (England)

Title:                                            An Expert in Murder
Author:                                        Nicola Upson
Date/Place of Publication:             2009/HarperCollins, New York
Original Date/Place of Publication: 2008/Faber and Faber Ltd, UK
ISBN #:                                       978-0-06-145153-9
# pages:                                      288
Discovered by chance at the library
Read in paper format
Also available in e-book format
Link to author’s website:

Josephine Tey, noted mystery writer in real life, is now part of a murder mystery herself. Comfortably settled into her train seat, she is heading to London for the closing week of her successful play when a young passenger in her compartment recognizes her. Elspeth Simmons is on her way to see the play for the umpteenth time and is thrilled to meet the author. They have a wonderful chat for the rest of the trip. As they arrive at King’s Cross station, they make plans to meet later so that Elspeth can be introduced to her favourite actor and Josephine is then whisked off by her friends. Unbeknownst to her, a few minutes later, Elspeth is murdered before she leaves the train. Josephine and her compatriots, including close friend Detective Inspector Archie Penrose, become drawn into a chain of events that has more than a few twists and turns.

The historical setting of this book (1934 England) is wonderfully threaded throughout the story by the author. She has captured the sense of people caught between two wars, World War I which still leaves a huge sense of loss, and the impending feeling of a war soon to come. Other historical facts are used effectively to set the time: be it the book Josephine tried to read (“Mr. Munt Carries on”, printed 1934), May Gaskell’s war library for soldiers overseas, the snippets of what the soldiers experienced (particularly the tunnelling companies) or the appearance of noted British pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury. Even the play around which the book revolves, “Richard of Bordeaux”, is a play actually written by Josephine Tey, using her other pseudonym, Gordon Daviot.

The early part of the book did bog down as many pages were devoted to sketching out the numerous characters and their backgrounds but the action picks up with the next murder. A hint as to the murderer’s motivation is set out on page one but it only becomes apparent upon rereading. An enjoyable book.

It was interesting to learn from the Author’s Note at the end of the book that neither Tey nor Daviot was the writer’s true name. It was in fact Elizabeth Mackintosh. Also of note, apparently the play, “Richard of Bordeaux” launched the career of British actor Sir John Gielgud. Ironically, it is the play which is given the most attention in obituaries for Miss Tey in 1952, with her mysteries, for which she is now best known, being relegated briefly to the closing sentences.



  1. I picked up The Daughter of Time just before the Richard III news broke. I hope to get to it soon, and then I may try out this series.

    1. I'm trying to remember if I read The Daughter of Time way back when. It's now on my list of "sometime when I have time" reading :)

  2. Thanks for the review. I have considered reading it but have not made the effort to find a copy. I will look harder now.

    1. I'll be interested in what you think of it, Bill.