Historical tragedies – and some very good writing

My second show at the Fringe? The Demise of Christopher Marlowe. Ok, not a bundle of laughs, but we did meet the author – are you getting old when authors look young? It was pretty well acted , especially the actor playing the title role, but the costume worn by at least one character looked as if it had been measured for a different chap altogether. Minor niggles apart, it was a pretty good play. A lot of dependence on the character’s thoughts being revealed through the letters they could have written.  Reminded me of the Kit Marlowe bits in “Shakespeare in Love” which I watched with friend Marcus. Still very funny…

The book which deals with historical tragedies is An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson. This is the first in a series of murder mysteries featuring the real person Josephine Tey, who in turn wrote murder mysteries and plays. One of her most famous books concerns the killing of the Princes in the Tower, (The Daughter of Time) or at least a relatively modern day investigation of the crime…which in turn reminds me of Gregory’s The White Queen, which I’ve nearly finished. Confused yet? Or is it only me who links books like this?

Anyway, to return to An Expert in Murder, the novel concerns the murder of a young theatre fan on a train, which is frightening paragraph or two. Tey is involved, having just met the girl en route to a performance of Tey’s play. This book introduces some really interesting characters, some of whom are set to reappear in subsequent books, and are mainly linked to the theatre crowd in London of the 1920s. My children are fascinated by drama and theatre, my fault I’m afraid, so I enjoyed this aspect of the book. The family of the victim are well depicted, and although the links between the characters become increasingly complex, Upson manages to control the confusing elements well. She conveys fear, the pain of loss and guilt confidently to produce a satisfying conclusion to a complicated mystery.

The real achievement of this book is the style. It is not just another murder mystery where  the setting or the plot dominate; the writing of the characters feels real and not just two dimensional types who solve the mystery despite their other preoccupations. These are characters who feel loss, who try to rationalize motives, who actually suffer from self doubt. The second book in the series puts some of the characters in a new setting, and even though I haven’t got that far in the second novel it does seem to show new sides of their personalities.  An Expert in Murder is a really good murder mystery for the reader looking for more than just plot and the satisfaction of solving the whodunnit; it is a novel based round a murder which rocks the messy and interconnected lives of the people described.  I enjoyed this book greatly, am enjoying the second in the series, and am seriously debating buying the third in expensive paperback. I would also be keen to read some of Tey’s own novels; I wonder if these novels will lead to an increase in the sales of her books as well?