When Josephine Tey’s godmother, the actress Hester Larkspur, dies, Josephine is astonished to inherit her home, a remote cottage in Suffolk. Needless to say, things aren’t as simple as that – there is a second beneficiary by the name of Lucy Kyte who nobody seems to have heard of.
A shadow hangs over the house – it is close to the location of the notorious Red Barn murder that took place nearly a century before, a murder that still casts a shadow over the local community. Is it possible that danger still lurks from a century before – or is there a more present threat to Josephine? And who exactly is Lucy Kyte?
This is the fifth book from Nicola Upson featuring Josephine Tey as the sleuth. I reviewed the first, An Expert In Murder, a good while ago, and I rather enjoyed it. It was a fairly traditional style of mystery, with well-written characters enhancing it, and I always intended to return to the series. Needless to say, I never got round to it until Faber & Faber sent me a copy of the latest in the series to review.
This is a completely different kettle of fish from the first novel. It’s a thoughtful tale, which takes its time to get going – that’s a bit of an understatement, to be honest. It’s not a traditional mystery, to be honest, but there is a whodunit element to the plot. It seems almost incidental to the main story, as the tale of what happened in the past is the core story that takes up the majority of the page count.
We’re not talking the sort of investigation as in, say, The Wench Is Dead by Colin Dexter, but more of a slow reveal of the truth behind the events of the past, and it’s a powerful and moving tale, especially at the end. I would encourage readers to persevere until you get to the end, as I imagine that those expecting a more traditional mystery might find their attention wandering.
I still have concerns about the use of Tey (Elizabeth McIntosh to give her real name) as I’m always a bit concerned when real people whose lives overlap with people who are still living have their lives fictionalised. Admittedly Tey was a bit of a private person so there is plenty of scope to add detail, and she is not exactly well known, but it still seems an odd choice. Why not create a fictional character based on Tey rather than use Tey herself? It’s probably just me who finds it odd though, so don’t let it detract you from reading the book.
As I said, don’t expect a traditional mystery but a more complex literate novel that takes its time to reach its heartbreaking conclusion. Recommended.