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The Murder of Lucy Kyte,

February 24, 2014

The Murder of Lucy Kyte, by Nicola Upson.  Faber and Faber, Paperback. Forthcoming, 2014.

 Another enjoyable mystery in a series featuring a fictionalized Josephine Tey as she explores the cottage she has inherited.  Like all the mysteries I enjoy, this series is more about the people than crime.

 Josephine Tey was the pseudonym of Elizabeth MacKintosh (1896-1952), a theater and crime writer of early twentieth-century Great Britain.  Nicola Upson has fictionalized Tey’s life in her series. Upson herself grew up in Suffolk, near the cottage featured here and heard stories of the “Red Barn Murder” as a child.

As the book opens, Tey learns that her godmother, a woman she barely remembers, has left her a cottage in Polstead, Suffolk.  Hester Larkspur had been a close friend of Tey’s mother before leaving Inverness, Scotland, and going onto the stage where she gained fame playing in melodramas.  Tey’s mother remained in their hometown after her marriage, and Tey grew up there.  With the inheritance comes responsibility; Tey must look at Larkspur’s papers and deal with them properly or destroy everything.

 The cottage just outside Polstead is close to the site of a famous nineteenth-century crime, The Red Barn Murder, which Larkspur had made into a play.  (The murder really took place and you can find lots about it, the people involved and Polstead on the web.)  When Tey first goes to the cabin she she has trouble making sense of what she finds there.  Slowly she tries to sort out what happened to Hester Larkspur.  A diary provides a fresh account of the Red Barn Murder, but it raises as many questions as it answers.  Who is Lucy Kyte?  Tey needs the help of old friends  to sustain her as she encounters dangers in the present as well as in the past.

Because I had enjoyed the previous books in the series, I was glad to read this one.  I found it the best of the lot.  The structure with its book-within-a book sets it apart from most mysteries, and I liked Tey more as I became acquainted with her more here.  The characters and how they respond to difficult situations are the focus of the book, not the crimes and their punishment.  The exploration of Hester Larkspur’s life leads Tey back to thoughts about herself and the choices she has made.  She mulls over questions like whether women should leave home to seek lives for themselves or if they must remain and sacrifice their lives to others.  Upton presents women who have made various choices and seems particularly intent on bringing to life women who have been invisible in the past.

 I recommend this book to those who like thoughtful, “cozy” mysteries.

 Thanks to the publishers for sending me a pre-publication edition of this mystery as an ebook.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 25, 2014 7:40 am

    I was very interested to read your beautifully written review. I grew up in that area, and can remember often going to Polstead to feed the ducks as a child. I’d also read the first Nicola Upton novel, and thought it was okay-ish but not necessarily a series I’d follow. If this one is the best so far then I’m much keener to read it, given the local interest!

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