Book Review: Nicola Upson’s An Expert in Murder

Posted April 13, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Nicola Upson’s An Expert in MurderAn Expert in Murder on May 20, 2008 and has 304 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.


First in the Josephine Tey historical mystery series revolving around Josephine Tey and Detective Inspector Archie Penrose.

My Take

It’s an interesting treatment of history with Upson using a real-life author, Josephine Tey, and her play, Richard of Bordeaux, as the point around which the murders are laid.

There’s a beautiful piece in here in which Terry examines the fame and frustration of being in a hit play. He also reminisces over what got him started — this was so sweet. Then of course there’s McCracken’s piece in the police station. Oh. My. God. She’s incredible. I’m not surprised she has such a miserable existence.

The murders are themselves dramatic, so fitting for the setting. What’s odd about the story is the coldness, even though the characters have feel so real; it’s certainly interesting “listening in” on everyone’s thoughts about the play, its future, and their own parts in it.

This just makes me cry. Upson talks of men being feted off to war and, after all the suffering and loss they undergo, when they come home they’re ignored, pushed aside. No one wants to know. No one wants to help those who have been injured fighting for their country. And, nothing has changed… Maybe if countries had to pay a decent pension to soldiers injured in war, they’d reconsider going to war in the first place.

There’s no end of possibilities with so many involved who are being cast aside or refused their dreams.

Annddd, another reason to require parents to receive a license before having children. Heck, maybe Mrs. Vintner should have required a psychological exam before marrying the jerk!

This is a weak point for me: if nicotine poisoning kills so fast, how did he have time to get from the stage to his office?

This is just sad. So many deaths because of one jerk. So many lives affected. I keep crying as I think about it.

The Story

Two senseless and seemingly unrelated murders turn out to have a lot more in common than anyone could expect.

The Characters

Josephine Tey fell into writing both as a way to fulfill her days and later to cope with her father’s illness. The success of Richard of Bordeaux is both satisfying and worrying. Jack Mackenzie is the lover she lost to war.

Detective Inspector Archie Penrose was with Jack in the war; they had met and become friends while studying medicine. Now he looks out for Josephine. I think he’s secretly in love with her. Sergeant Bill Fallowfield is his colleague. Sir Bernard Spilsbury is the Home Office Pathologist.

The Motleys are two sisters, Veronique “Ronnie” and Lettice, “who had revolutionised theatre design”; they’re also Archie’s cousins. Yes, Archie is fascinated with the theatre. George is Lettice’s “long-suffering fiancé”. Dora Snipe is their cook/housekeeper.

Elspeth Simmons helps her mother create unique hats, and she’s recently fallen in love. Uncle Frank Simmons shares Elspeth’s love of the theatre; he thinks of her as the daughter he never had. Aunt Betty runs a hat shop out of their home with the hats that Elspeth’s mother, Alice, makes.

John Terry is the lead actor, and he’s gay. Lydia Beaumont is the lead actress, and she’s gay. This at a time when gays were definitely don’t tell! Marta Fox is her lover and a writer. Lewis Fleming, Terry’s understudy, is struggling with his anger over his wife’s, Ruth’s, illness, and contemplating the commission of a sin. Hedley White works for Esme, and Bernard is taking an interest in him. He’s fascinated by the theatre and by Elspeth. Rafe Swinburne is a cocky, conniving actor, who wouldn’t recognize his own bed unless his name were written on it; he rides a 1932 Ariel Square Four. Esme McCracken, the stage manager, is also a writer, and she’ll tell you how much better she is than anyone else at the drop of a hat. A nasty, vicious thing she is.

Bernard Aubrey is a theatre impresario, making his fortune backing plays. He and his wife, Grace, simply exist in the same house. Arthur is his nephew, and Bernard felt responsible for his death during a tunneling “accident” in France during the war.

Elliott Vintner wrote one successful book and never another one again.

Tommy Forrester is the waiter who found the body.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a black-and-white graphic of a train pulling into a station, plumes of steam visible in the cold.

The title is a play off on a repeated phrase.


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