Shot With Crimson by Nicola Upson: Classy, clever and endlessly entertaining – book review –

Shot With Crimson by Nicola UpsonShot With Crimson by Nicola Upson
Shot With Crimson by Nicola Upson
When she visits the Hollywood set of Hitchcock’s film of Rebecca in September, 1939, crime writer Josephine Tey finds herself drawn into a web of murder that stretches back to a historic house in the lush countryside of Cambridgeshire.

And before long, the menacing deeds and deadly desires of Daphne du Maurier’s famous Cornish story start to echo through events on the American side of the Atlantic.

Shot With Crimson is the eleventh book in Nicola Upson’s outstandingly intelligent and atmospheric Josephine Tey Mystery series, set principally in England in the 1930s and 1940s, and inspired by the Golden Age of crime writing.

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For those new to a name which shone brightly in this period, Josephine Tey was a pseudonym used by the enigmatic Elizabeth Mackintosh, a Scottish writer best known for her mystery novels of the 1940s and 50s.

Virtually unknown today, Tey has been given a new lease of life as the lead character in Cambridge graduate Upson’s cleverly plotted novels which see the best-selling author and playwright turn detective to solve cerebral mysteries which often give a voice to the downtrodden silenced by both society and history.

Elegant, sophisticated and beautifully written, these stories blend fact and fiction, contrasting the stark realities of everyday life with the glamorous world of theatre and film during these middle century decades, and exploring hard-hitting issues, many of which are as relevant today as they were eight or nine decades ago.

And Upson’s army of fans will certainly have stars in their eyes when they join Josephine for this gripping mystery set between the alluring backdrop of Alfred Hitchcock’s film set for Rebecca with its iconic actors, and Milton Hall, Cambridgeshire, the Elizabethan manor house which du Maurier visited as a child and which became the inspiration for her unforgettable Manderley.

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We join Josephine in September of 1939 as a sombre mood falls across the country. Dogged by the worries of war, she boards the magnificent luxury liner Queen Mary to sail into the unknown but desperately hoping to meet up again soon with her partner Marta Fox who is a screenwriter on the set of Rebecca.

And it’s amid the opulence of the Queen Mary that she meets Alma Reville, the shrewd and clever actress who is now Hitchcock’s wife, and whom she first met three years ago when the famous director bought the film rights to one of her books.

This once in a lifetime trip was supposed to feel like ‘a blessing’ but the fear of conflict is ever-present, and when she arrives in Hollywood, Josephine finds that a different sort of battle is raging during the filming of Rebecca. A murderer, hell-bent on revenge, is stalking the set and soon a shocking act of violence reawakens the shadows of the past, with dangerous consequences on both sides of the Atlantic.

Meanwhile, far away in the lush Cambridgeshire countryside, the housekeeper at Milton Hall – the secretive house that led ten-year-old Daphne to the later creation of Manderley – has been murdered.

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With echoes of the notoriously sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers in Rebecca ringing in her ears, Josephine links up with her good friend DCI Archie Penrose of Scotland Yard and they find themselves on a trail that has spine-tingling parallels with the book’s timeless themes of obsession, jealousy and murder…

In what is one of this talented author’s most impressive outings yet, a menacing mystery – packed with movie icons like Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, producer David O. Selznick and even Daphne du Maurier herself – plays out on both sides of the Atlantic as toxic truths are slowly and shockingly revealed.

Reunited with her beloved Marta, and with good friend Archie sifting through the evidence after the murder at Milton Hall, Josephine must help to piece together a case that contains Upson’s familiar mesmerising Golden Age blend of fiction and reality, but on this occasion comes liberally sprinkled with intriguing literary tropes.

Slipping effortlessly between places, plotlines and a cast of characters portrayed with exquisite precision, and constantly overshadowed by the ever-gathering clouds of war, this twisting, turning homage to du Maurier’s classic novel is imbued with all the passion and emotions that we have come to expect from this author’s outstanding series.

Classy, clever, endlessly entertaining, and perfectly stitched together, Shot With Crimson is a joy from start to finish.

(Faber & Faber, hardback, £16.99)

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