The book is a deeply satisfying dive into 1930s theatreland, a great mystery to puzzle through and a great read.
The book opens with Josephine Tey, murder mystery novelist, (a character based on one of the pseudonyms of Elizabeth Mackintosh) on a train down from the Highlands to London where her hit play Richard of Bordeaux is entering its final week on stage. She’s going to a meeting to discuss the future of the play but, well, events rather overtake her.
It’s a great plot and really fun trying to work out what has happened. I loved the way the story gradually pulled together links between the different characters making you realise, with gradually dawning horror that all is not as it seems. The way that Upson draws out the story from the beginning of the detective’s vague suspicion that the murder may be linked to Richard of Bordeaux, all the way to the final unravelling is masterful.
And all the way through the book seems like an homage to the genre – all the business with the decanters, trains and theatre – it is just delightful.
I really enjoyed the characters in the book: Josephine seems lovely – both insightful, human and stubborn, which is a perfect mix for this story. My favourite characters though are the two very funny sisters who do all the costumes and props and bring some much needed light relief to the story with some great lines. There is also glamorous Lydia, the leading lady, and her enigmatic lover, Marta whose relationship grows more nuanced as the book progresses. The more villainous characters are truly odious too, from the slightly comedic stage manager to the ghastly Elliott Vintner who sends chills down your spine. And then there are those, like Bernard Aubrey, who inhabit the shades of grey.
It was also interesting having the detective being best friends with the people involved in the murder – this was a great way of giving us insights into what was going on, and it gave the story a lot of pace as the action happened to different characters who then came together to compare notes. It also gave the whole detecting process a really human side as the detective tries to protect Josephine from as much as he can – you suspect that much of what happened in this story would not be allowed these days!
My final piece of advice is that when you have finished the book, go back and read the opening page again. It’s chilling.