I've been a fan of Nicola Upson's Josephine Tey crime novels since the first one, An Expert in Murder, appeared in 2008. London Rain is the sixth in the series, and I read it with great pleasure. If by chance you are not familiar with the series, the basic idea is a simple but clever one. The central character, Josephine Tey, really existed (though her real name was Elizabeth MacKintosh), and was the author of a number of now much celebrated crime novels. She also wrote plays, under another pseudonym, Gordon Daviot. Upson has taken the 'real' Josephine and imagined her solving actual crimes, with the help of her friend, Detective Inspector Archie Penrose, who didn't actually exist but clearly owes a lot to Tey's fictional detective Alan Grant.
This mingling of fact and fiction is the common thread that runs throughout all the novels. It's been of particular interest to me because two of the recurring characters are actually based on my mother and aunt, who were theatre designers and worked with Tey in real life. Indeed a number of the characters in the circle surrounding the fictional Tey are based on identifiable people, many of whom are familiar to me through family stories. But don't run away with the idea that you need all this background knowledge to enjoy the books -- far from it -- they are absolutely strong enough to stand in the their own right.
London Rain takes place in May 1927. Josephine is in London to oversee a BBC Radio production of her play Queen of Scots, but the date is significant because this is the month of the Coronation of the new King, George VI. Naturally the BBC is heavily involved this is event, especially their ace broadcaster Anthony Beresford, whose wife Vivienne works in the design department of the Radio Times. Anthony is expected to be the prime commentator on Coronation Day -- but just as he's about to pick up the microphone and begin, he is shot dead.
Interestingly -- and this is a departure for Upson, I think -- we know the identity of his murderer straight away, and actually watch the act taking place. We know why it was done, though the true facts of the case are open to misinterpretation, and the murderer has jumped to a wrong conclusion. In fact the motive remains just as strong when the truth comes to light -- perhaps even stronger -- as family secrets are revealed with shocking consequences.
All this sounds a bit vague, but it's impossible to say more about the murder plot without giving too much away. However, as with the other novels in the series, there's more going on than just crimes and their solutions. Josephine's own life remains a constant focus of interest, and each novel traces the development of her love affair with the writer Marta, whose life is complicated by the fact that she lives with actress Lydia. The two have never been sure how much Lydia knows or suspects, but things come to a head here in a way that is painful for all concerned. Then of course there's the historical background, here as always superbly brought to life. Whether its the busy, often tense atmosphere at Broadcasting House or the fascinating descriptions of the streets and Westminster Abbey on Coronation Day, Upson has clearly done her research painstakingly and the results are impressive.
So -- another winner, which as you can see I enjoyed tremendously. The novel's going to be reviewed by one of our team of excellent reviewers in Shiny 6, coming out soon, so watch out for that!