Saturday, 17 July 2010

Josephine Tey and Nicola Upson


When I first heard that a series of books was to be published featuring Josephine Tey as the lead character, I must admit that I was rather surprised. Tey is one of the Golden Age writers whose work has lasted well, but I’ve always had the impression that in real life she was a retiring individual, who never married and died relatively young, and who hid behind the pseudonyms of Tey and Gordon Daviot (her real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh.)

Yet Nicola Upson has not only now written three novels published by Faber and starring Tey, but she has teamed her up with an appealing cop called Archie Penrose. The first book in the series, which came out a couple of years ago, is An Expert in Murder, and it was followed by Angel With Two Faces. Two for Sorrow has now just appeared.

I’ve featured Tey in a new column for Bookdagger, which is due to appear shortly, so I won’t repeat what I’ve said there, but I do think it’s interesting to consider why her reputation has survived when that of many contemporary crime writers has faded from sight. After all, surely nobody would contemplate writing a new mystery series featuring E.R. Punshon, say, or J.J. Connington, or other Golden Age practitioners.

The explanation for her success owes something, I think, to the fact that Tey was a genuinely good literary stylist, while her plots were apt to be a bit ‘different’, for example because she did not always write about murder. The Daugher of Time is her most famous book, but I prefer the excellent Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair. I do hope Upson’s books manage to interest more readers in the work of this fine writer.

15 comments:

vegetableduck said...

Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie have been turned into fictional detectives as well. And Ngaio Marsh appeared as a murder suspect in another novel (rather impudent)! I don't think anyone has done Allingham yet.

Alfred Walter Stewart (J. J. Connington) would have made a good detective character, I think. He was a lot like his Clinton Driffield, very peppery. After writing my 100 pages on him and his work, I feel like I know him a lot better than Tey!

Tey's never had a biography, by the way, has she? The most I recall reading about her is the chapter in the book Women of Mystery.

harriet said...

She was a great writer and I love all her books. What has interested me about Upson's novels is that my mother appeared as a character in the first one and I think does in this recent one though I haven't got a copy yet. Must try to get hold of it and check!

Fiona said...

I cannot judge the books since I haven't read them, but speaking as someone with little creative imagination this just strikes me as very odd and, quite frankly, unimginative! It's been done before - I believe someone has written a crime novel (maybe more than one) with Jane Austen as a detective. I have no wish whatever to read them. That may be unreasonable prejudiced, but I stand by my opinion; I respect both Austen and Tey as writers of note and to me using them as characters wholly out of context shows a lack of integrity.

Deb said...

I very much enjoyed THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR, but DAUGHTER OF TIME (essentially a clearing of the name of Richard III in the murders of the princes in the tower) is a bit dull--primarily because all of the action takes place while the detective is in bed, recovering from an injury.

I did try to read the first Upson book featuring Tey. I thought it was a bit of a gimmick and it failed to engage my interest. This is not to say she's a bad writer, just that it wasn't to my taste. In general, I shy away from books with actual people playing at being a detective.

Eric said...

I must say that I agree with Fiona. Maybe mystery writers should start using themselves as characters before others do. Oh wait, I forgot Kinky Freidman. Well that works at least.

I read Daughter of Time last year and found it fascinating because I love history and am intrigued by the sometimes tenuous connection between history and what the reality was. However, I immediately read Walpole's analysis of the murders of the princes and...well...Daughter of Time was more readable but Tey seems to have taken so much from Walpole that I guess she would have no reason to complain if another writer wanted to use her as a protagonist.

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, who are the authors who have featured Sayers, Christie and Marsh? These are books I haven't come across - maybe not published in the UK?
Again, I much look forward to reading what you have to say about Connington.
Catherine Aird planned a bio of Tey, but it has never seen the light of day, alas.

Martin Edwards said...

Harriet, that is an amazing story! Who was your mother, and how does she feature in the book?

Martin Edwards said...

Fiona, Deb and Eric - I'm interested in your reaction to the concept. Perhaps it's one I'd better avoid myself!

seana said...

I love Tey, but I haven't been drawn to these mysteries either. Tribute novels always invite a comparison between the current author's work and the legend they are honoring. You have to be pretty good to live up to that!

I'm curious about Harriet's mother too.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Faber has a podcast with Upson:
http://www.faber.co.uk/site-media/audio-snippets/faber_podcast_show_15.mp3

Dean James said...

I've read the first in the series and enjoyed it very much. I read somewhere that Upson is also working on a biography of Tey, and that is how she came to write novels featuring her. My own favorite of hers is The Franchise Affair. I found The Daughter of Time readable, but as a medievalist, I found it rather poor history. Tey was just parroting what she found in other sources, and those were frankly biased heavily in Richard III's favor. Still, it's an intriuging concept.

Juxtabook said...

I love Josphine Tey's novels especially The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar. I very much enjoyed Upson's first two and have just finished the third.

Harriet - The third Upson does have the Motley sisters in it. I am right in saying your mother was one of them?

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for the link, Elizabeth.
Dean, I didn't know Upson planned a bio - interesting.

Martin Edwards said...

Juztabook - I've checked on the internet, and I think you have solved the mystery of Harriet's mum!

Anonymous said...

The only fictional use of Agatha Christie i'm aware of is her appearance in a recent episode of "Dr. Who" as a character.

@DeanJames It really depends on whether you are a Yorkist or Lancastrian at heart. Even today people appear to take sides. If you lean Yorkist you'll agree with authors like Thomas Costain and blame Henry VII. If you lean Lancastrian you'll agree with Elizabeth weyr and blame Richard III.

Personally i thought Daughter of Time was very original and eminently enjoyable, though i did like Singing Sands better.