Sorry for the Dead

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Nov 2019

Member Reviews

The eighth book in the Josephine Tey series from Nicola Upson. A moving tale and an engaging, historical murder mystery. Both well crafted and tightly plotted, this is a worthy addition to this long running series.
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This is the 8th book in the series by Nicola Upson that places the crime writer, Josephine Tey, at the centre of her own investigation.  I have followed this series from the very start and love the period settings and the beautiful, evocative writing.  Upson is a master of exploring human emotion and there's usually a good crime story thrown in too!

This book is divided between 1915 and a much later date.  In the 1915 sections, a young Josephine Tey arrives to teach at a school for young ladies with a focus on farming to provide produce during the war.  She makes friends and embarks on her first love affair with a woman, but her new-found happiness is shattered when one of the girls in her care dies.  The sections of the book set later revisit this death and Josephine, now a successful writer and in a relationship with Marta, has to face some of the people and events that shaped her past.

As usual, the setting of the novel is beautifully described - the time periods and the physical landscapes are immersive.  The characters are also engaging and interesting, although I did miss Archie Penrose who has been more central to the other books.  Upson also explores a range of ideas such as the power of secrets and the persecution of lesbian woman.

However, I do have to say that I felt this wasn't the best of the series.  It feels very unevenly paced, with long periods of nothing going on and a flurry of revelations right at the end.  There was much more focus on Josephine's angsty love life and less on the crime element which was a shame.

Overall, I'd recommend this to those who have enjoyed the Josephine Tey series so far, but I'm not sure if I would suggest you start here if you are new to the books.
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Intriguing and challenging, this eighth entry in Nicola Upson’s Josephine Tey series is really about the corrosive impact of secrets. While ostensibly a novel of detection concerning the death of a young woman at a horticultural college in 1915 and its continuing impact on the lives of those most closely concerned, it also examines  societal attitudes to lesbians in England from WW1 to just after WW2.

I found the novel somewhat bleak, and, at times, exasperating. The exasperation stemmed partly from the structure, leaping from 1948 to 1915 to 1938 back to 1915 then again to 1948. This is tricky  for any  author, even one as accomplished as Upson,  to carry out, and it did not work for me. 

The rest of the exasperation and all of the bleakness was due to the unremittingly dark picture of life as a lesbian at this time. Not one of the f/f relationships was joyful or positive and basically the author seems to blame societal pressures for this. 

Elizabeth MacKintosh, Beth to her family, Gordon (Daviot) to her London friends, and Josephine Tey to those who think her one of the best mystery writers of her era, was an intensely private and somewhat elusively self-reliant compendium of people. Whether or not in reality she was lesbian is open to debate. Here she comes across rather negatively. At 19 she  cuts off her first experience of love with another woman almost at its inception, fearful of what family and others will say. In later life she keeps back information from her lover Marta, for no good reason.

Most homosexuals were forced to lead secretive lives and many still do, despite changes in the law and in attitudes.It takes courage to challenge ingrained prejudice and there are still too many incidents, mostly unreported, in which LGBTQIA people meet hostility and violence both physical and verbal. This novel is a timely reminder of that.
 
“Sorry For The Dead” is well-written and interestingly plotted. My major quibble is with the structure which I found awkward. Readers may be taken out of their “cosy” comfort zone but then that is what Tey herself enjoyed doing in novels such as “The Franchise Affair” which lurks in the background here.

Highly recommended.
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A complex and well written mystery, well researched and full of food for thought.
I loved this series and I think this is one of the most complex story.
It's well written and I think that Ms Upson is a talented storyteller and does an excellent job in describing life between the wars and the implications for those who didn't match all the standards.
The mystery part is solid and keeps you guessing, the cast of characters is well thought and interesting.
An excellent and engrossing read, strongly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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This my first-time reading Nicola Upson and Sorry For The Dead is the eighth Josephine Tey book. Usually I’m not a fan of diving in at the end of a long series, however the synopsis sounded fascinating enough to risk not knowing the backstory.  

This historical mystery is set between the First World War and shortly after the Second World War. Which is a period of time that I am aware of but not in any great detail and certainly not from the perspective of women in the countryside helping the war effort during WWI and independent women in the arts post that period.  

The plot centres around whether a death was an accident or actually in retrospect a murder and is cleverly done with the retelling moving through different time periods rather than chronologically, keeping the story moving at a nice pace.   Concurrently the relationships of those who featured in the past, and current in Josephine Tey’s present are delved into. 

The mystery is explored by Josephine who is almost an inadvertent detective, tracking clues through conversations with past acquaintances and current friends. The characters,  male and particularly female are interesting, well fleshed out, with odd details that make them likeable or dislikeable individuals.

What I really enjoyed was the scenic background to the gentle murder investigation.  The detail provided in the historical context – setting the scene for London, Sussex and Essex during the retelling was engaging and poignant.  It made me want to go out and start visiting stately homes and seaside towns. 

The reference to real individuals e.g. Alfred Hitchcock made me realise that I was reading faction (fictional story that incorporates real people and events).  Another thing I would have known had I started with book one, likewise had I researched the pseudonym Josephine Tey. Nevertheless, it was intriguing to have these references deftly woven into the story.

The number of sub plots, mysteries, fleeting references to characters in previous books made me occasionally consider if I hadn’t been paying attention.  At one point, I had to go back to the beginning to reconcile who I had already been introduced to. But that was a minor blip.

Overall, I enjoyed this trip through interconnected relationships to the vivid backdrop of England between the two world wars, the ramifications of love in all its guises and evidence that bigotry – overt or understated – is still harmful.   It is a nuanced rendition of cause and effect and particularly touching to read during this period around Remembrance Sunday.

 "No one has a right to be loved…not by birth, or by any other act of chance.  Love has to be earned, just like trust…"

My thanks to NetGalley and Faber and Faber for an ARC of this book in exchange for a candid review.
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Josephine didn't question what happened when Dorothy died at college in 1915 but now, in 1938, she's questioning her memory.  More importantly, as a mature woman, she understands more about life than she did when it happened.  Georgina and Harriet, the women who oversaw the college, are lesbians and subject to much prejudice.  The suggestion that Dorothy was murdered sets Josephine off on a quest for the truth- the truth about what happened and why it happened.  While the mystery is nicely twisty, I enjoyed this most for the way Upson has explored the UK between the wars.  I'd not read others in this series, which wasn't a problem, especially as this shifts between 1915 and 1938 (and adds in 1945 as well).  It did set me off to a bit of research on Tey, a fascinating and talented woman.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  I'm going to look for Upson in the future.
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I usually love this series for the complicated characterisation of Josephine Tey, Upson's immaculate writing, and the way a contemporary sensibility intertwines with an evocation of the 1930s. Nevertheless, this book seemed to take me forever to get through and I was a little bored throughout the middle section where not much seemed to happen before a flurry of last-minute revelations and action at the end: pacing, therefore, feels somewhat off. 

It also feels like the story changes direction - but in a disjointed rather than good-twisty way. We're set up with a situation where a murder that took place when Tey was a young supply teacher in 1915 suddenly intrudes into her 1930s life. We get to witness her first meeting with Archie and Jack, her fiancé who died during the war, and I was looking forward to having this episode, previously made central to Upson's imagining of her fictional Tey's life, brought to life. It's side-lined almost immediately, though, and neither Archie nor Jack appear again in 1915 after that first page - very frustrating.

Instead we're introduced to Tey's first, and aborted, love - another angsty affair that creates more tension, somewhat artificially, between Tey and Marta. The problem I had with this 'past' story is that the young Tey just doesn't seem young and inexperienced enough: instead, she's her usual poised and assured self which doesn't quite ring true, especially given her actions and the impact they're supposed to have on her later life.

It's certainly interesting to get sneaky glimpses of the Bloomsbury group and the Hitchcocks, and Upson cleverly poses her 'past' story as initiating the concerns dealt with in 'The Franchise Affair'.. I loved the idea of going back into Josephine's past but it didn't quite work in the way I had expected. 

Nevertheless, this still remains one of my favourite contemporary crime series with a nicely feminist and inclusive vision of the past, lovely writing and lightly-worn research.
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I would like to thank Netgalley and Faber and Faber Ltd for an advance copy of Sorry for the Dead, the eighth novel to feature Josephine Tey.

In 1915 a young girl falls to her death in an accident at a horticultural college. Josephine, a teacher there at the time, has no cause to doubt the verdict but in 1938 a newspaper article drags it up and suggests Dorothy was murdered. Returning to the scene Josephine vows to get to the bottom of the mystery and clear any suspicion from her name.

I enjoyed Sorry for the Dead although it is slightly outside my comfort zone of straightforward detection, being more an examination of societal prejudices, the impact of them and love and loyalty with a bit of crime thrown in. The novel is mostly told from Josephine’s point of view and has a shifting timeline of 1948, 1938 and 1915, initially in that order but moves back and forward between 1915 and 1938 before finishing in 1948 to make sense of the opening 1948 chapter. This latter is a nice touch.

The novel really revolves around lesbianism and how unacceptable it was in those days. It brings Josephine’s angst and need for secrecy to the fore and overshadows Dorothy’s death as the couple running the college, Georgina and Harriet, were in a relationship. The way they were treated by their neighbours is appalling and genuinely moving. I liked the way the novel slowly uncovers all the secrets and untangles all the lies and misconceptions, apart from the final one. The crime lies in the reason for Dorothy’s death and it will not be as obvious as you would think, in fact I found it to be a surprise. 

I have found this to be a difficult novel to review because it’s so tied up in Josephine’s emotions and past. It is hard to imagine what a secretive life she was forced to live but Ms Upson does a great job of making it real with some nice ironies and brutal truths.

Sorry for the Dead is a good read that I have no hesitation in recommending.
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Thanks to NetGalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Another stunning historical mystery from an immensely gifted author.

Ever since I discovered 'An Expert in Murder', the 1st book in this series, I have been a huge fan of Nicola Upson's Josephine Tey mysteries. For the uninitiated, Josephine Tey was one of the golden era crime writers of the 1930s and 1950s with Upson reimagining the author as the fictionalised protagonist of her own crime stories. The sense of time and place Upson brings to her novels are impeccable and we see Josephine  rubbing shoulders throughout the series with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Vanessa Bell and Clough William Ellis (to name but a few). It is hardly surprising then given Upson's background as a Cambridge scholar that her grasp of historical context is flawless. This book is no exception to her usually high standards of research and beautifully written prose. In the latest instalment Josephine is once again called upon to reconcile past events with present ones, with murder at the heart of the story.
The book centres on the events of 1915 with the death of a young girl at a horticultural school in the Sussex Downs. Josephine, as a witness to the events in her capacity as a teacher at the college is called upon, almost 25 years later, to re-evaluate the circumstances surrounding the death. Returning to the scene of the crime - now much changed - Josephine realises that there is a darker mystery at the heart of the events, other than the love between women that dared not speak its name. Here Upson creates a beautifully poignant story that is as much about the human condition, its passion and frailties, as it is about the intriguing murder mystery at the heart of this novel. Nicola Upson has skillfully risen to the occasion once again creating not just one murder mystery but also an intricately constructed plot in which other mysteries and also the complexities of personal relationships run through the novel. The complicated but neatly and seamlessly woven plot-lines keep the reader gripped throughout. Fiction on fiction, or 'faction' as this genre is known, this is a magnificent crime novel with Upson at her very best.

The 8th Josephine Tey mystery is a worthwhile addition to this unforgettable series of novels. With its masterful characterisation, taut plotting and wonderful dialogue, Upson cements her place as one of the most gifted historical mystery novelists writing today.

I could not recommend this book highly enough.
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