Nine Lessons: The Seventh Josephine Tey Mystery…
Josephine Tey is in Cambridge, a town gripped by fear and suspicion as a serial rapist stalks the streets, and in the shadow of King’s College Chapel, Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose faces some of the most horrific and audacious murders of his career.
The seventh novel in Nicola Upson’s highly praised series featuring Josephine Tey takes the reader on a journey from 1930s Cambridge to the bleak and desolate Suffolk coast – a journey which will ultimately leave Archie’s and Josephine’s lives changed forever.
Despite historical fiction being one of my favourite genres, I tend to avoid historical crime fiction, unjustifiably so, some preconceived notion of it being ‘cosy’ and therefore kind of ‘lame’ being my only excuse. I wouldn’t be able to actually provide a previously read cosy lame title if asked, it’s just a prejudice I have developed, and after reading Nine Lessons, the joke is most definitely on me, because this novel is so far from ‘cosy’ and ‘lame’, that as descriptors, they don’t factor at all.
While Nine Lessons is actually the seventh novel in Nicola Upson’s Josephine Tey mystery series, it is not imperative to have read any of the previous titles. The novel stands in good stead on its own and there are few references that would be confusing to a new reader.
Set in the 1930s, the Great War is still a present memory and the Second World War looms ominously on the horizon. There are two serial crimes occurring in tandem in Nine Lessons: murder and rape. Nicola Upson has crafted an impeccable crime novel that is both highly atmospheric and chillingly terrifying. I would go so far as to label Nine Lessons as the most sophisticated crime novel I have ever read. The writing is just gorgeous, so precise, and the overlapping fault lines between the two cases being investigated make for a tightly drawn plot with a unique and deeply affecting storyline.
“It was hard to say if her frankness was due to the wine, but she was much more self-confident now than she had seemed in her husband’s presence. There was something contradictory about her, Penrose noticed – a strange, brittle strength which was both unsettling and attractive; intelligent eyes partnered a slight twist in the mouth to give her face an expression of wry amusement, as if she found the whole world faintly ludicrous but accepted that the joke was on her.”
At the heart of Nine Lessons is a story about rape and its wider effects. It’s hard hitting at times, downright frightening in places, and extremely sad in others. There are shades of grey in Nine Lessons that have the reader reflecting on justified crime and vigilantism, as well the many ways in which our society shapes notions of blame and misconduct. Class, as well as gender, is presented as a measure for inequality in Nine Lessons, and it is done so with a strong command of the subject matter. I was left feeling hollowed out after reading Nine Lessons, the truth of the motive behind the murders so terrible, not only in its execution, but also in its explicit wrongness: the self imposed entitlement of one class of person enabling them to commit such atrocities against another from a ‘lesser’ class. It still burns as I think about it while writing this review. But the entire storyline was executed to perfection, and I’d be hard pressed to name another crime novel of its equal.
I fully intend on reading the previous six titles in this series, that’s how impressed I am by this novel. Nicola Upson is a very fine author and Nine Lessons has set the bar sky high for me for historical crime fiction. A stellar plot, excellent characterisation, thought provoking content, and an authentic atmosphere; Nine Lessons has secured a place right up at the top of my list of favourite reads for 2017.
Thanks is extended to Faber and Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of Nine Lessons for review.
Nicola Upson was born in Suffolk and read English at Downing College, Cambridge. She has worked in theatre and as a freelance journalist, and is the author of two non-fiction works and the recipient of an Escalator Award from the Arts Council England.
Her debut novel, An Expert in Murder, was the first in a series of crime novels whose main character is Josephine Tey – one of the leading authors of Britain’s Golden Age of crime writing. It was praised by PD James as marking ‘the arrival of a new and assured talent’.
Nicola lives with her partner in Cambridge and Cornwall, which was the setting for her second novel, Angel With Two Faces. The third book in the series, Two for Sorrow, was followed by Fear in the Sunlight, The Death of Lucy Kyte and, most recently, London Rain.