For her third Josephine Tey mystery, Two for Sorrow, to be released in the U.S. Aug. 9, 2011, Nicola Upson offers a novel within a novel. Upson interweaves her story about the current murder of a young seamstress with chapters from a book Josephine Tey is writing about two notorious “baby farmers,” Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, both of whom died in 1903.
Josephine Tey was, of course, one of the pseudonyms of Elizabeth Mackintosh, who created the six Alan Grant mysteries published from 1929 through 1952, the year of Macintosh’s death. Upson bases her fictional character on many facts from Mackintosh’s life. Ironically, though, the events that take place in Two for Sorrow lead Upson’s Tey to question the value of writing about real people.
Two for Sorrow reveals Tey’s personal connection to the Sach and Walters case. When Tey was a student at the Anstey Physical Training College, her classmate Elizabeth Price killed herself shortly after learning that she, an adopted child, was actually the daughter of Amelia Sach.
Celia Bannerman, who now manages the Cowdray Club where Josephine stays while researching her novel, also has ties to Elizabeth’s death as well as to that of Elizabeth’s mother. Bannerman had been a senior teacher at Elizabeth’s school, and in 1903 she was a warder at Holloway Prison when Amelia Sach and Annie Walters were executed after being found guilty of killing the infants placed in their care.
Detective Inspector Archie Penrose, a character in the other two books in this series, is investigating the murder of a more recent Holloway inmate, Marjorie Baker, an ex-convict who had been working as a seamstress in his cousins’ theatrical costume business. Penrose soon discovers more connections between Marjorie’s death and the case that Tey is studying.
Two for Sorrow takes a surprising emotional twist when Marta Fox resurfaces. In An Expert in Murder, the first book in the Josephine Tey series, Marta had been introduced as the lover of Tey’s friend Lydia Beaumont. Now Marta is declaring her love for Tey. Upson uses this relationship to further her characterization of Tey as a woman who needs to be more willing to accept changes in her life, but it fits awkwardly within the novel’s established plot.
Two for Sorrow succeeds, though, in its detailed evocation of a historical period – that of England between the two World Wars. Upson’s talent for capturing the atmosphere of that era places the Josephine Tey series on a par with Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs books or Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford mysteries.
FTC disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by its publisher, HarperCollins.