Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for Two for Sorrow
Josephine Tey has returned to the Cowdray Club in London, a club for nurses and professional women, where she stays when in town. Her friends, the Motley sisters, are designing gowns for all of the women who will be attending the upcoming charity gala, while two of her other friends, Lydia and Marta, have ended their relationship. Marta has professed her love for Josephine, who is confused not just because she feels loyal to Lydia, but because she also feels affection for her long-time friend, Inspector Archie Penrose.
Josephine is researching her latest book, a fictional tale based upon the real-life story of Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, both of whom were hanged in 1903 after being convicted of the crime of baby farming — pretending to take in unwed mothers and find homes for their babies once they were born, but, in reality, murdering the infants.
Marjorie Baker is a talented young seamstress working for the Motleys. She, like Lucy Peters, employed as a housemaid at the Cowdray Club, spent time in prison, but desires a chance to make a respectable life for herself. It is difficult for both young women, however, and Marjorie finds herself helping Lucy hide the fact that she has not fully reformed. Soon, Marjorie’s troubled past — not all the details of which even she is informed about — comes calling in the form of her alcoholic, ne’er-do-well father. The next morning both are found dead. Marjorie died a gruesome, painful death at the hands of a murderer.
Who would murder Marjorie, especially in such a heinous manner, in order to keep her from revealing what she did know? Josephine finds herself in the middle of the murder investigation, wondering whether her research and the portion of her book she has drafted thus far had anything to do with the young woman’s death.
Set in London in 1935, more than thirty years after the execution of Sach and Walters, Two for Sorrow is a highly stylized, tautly crafted tale inspired by their lives and crimes. Again using acclaimed crime novelist Josephine Tey as her protagonist, author Nicola Upson creates an eclectic cast of supporting characters and spins a web of long-held secrets that threaten to derail several lives if they are revealed.
Like any good crime novel, the story begins innocently, with Upson taking great care to set the scene — the Cowdray Club is steeped in tradition and manners, and Josephine and her circle of friends have known each other for a long time. Still, there is tension among them as a romance between Lydia and Marta has ended, and Marta has expressed her interest in Josephine, asking her to read the diary she has written to Josephine about her feelings. Questions of sexuality and social propriety are explored, as Josephine struggles to decide whether she can return Marta’s feelings. Particularly touching is the gentle relationship between Josephine and Inspector Penrose, who obviously understands that Josephine is torn and suggests to her that she take time to reflect and contemplate her own self.
As the characters’ relationships are revealed, so too is the link from the present to the past. Celia Bannerman, the warder (prison guard) who was with Amelia Sach until she went to her death, is now running the Club. One of the Club’s major patrons had an adolescent romance with Sach’s daughter, Lizzie, who was adopted soon after her mother’s death. The revelation of her real identity resulted in tragedy.
Once Upson grounds her readers in the story’s place, time, and characters, the book’s focus shifts with the brutal slaying of Marjorie, a character for whom readers will have, by then, come to feel hope. At that point, as Inspector Penrose works to uncover the killer’s identity, the story’s pace gradually increases, moving faster and faster toward its shocking conclusion. The gala charity ball, at which Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence are the featured performers and guests, is fast approaching and Inspector Penrose’s theories must be put to the test. The plot twists and turns, keeping readers guessing as more and more secrets are revealed — each more shocking than the previous one — until the unbelievable truth is finally uncovered.
Upson’s prose is lush, rich with detail. She incorporates a number of thought-provoking issues into the story, including capital punishment, the purpose of incarceration, the conditions in which female inmates lived in the early years of the twentieth century, and the lingering impact of World War I upon an evolving English society, even as World War II loomed. Through it all, excerpts of Josephine’s novel are interspersed.
Two for Sorrow is a challenging read, not only because of Upson’s unique writing style, but also because it is her third installment featuring the character of Josephine Tey. There are some references to her earlier works that are confusing, but not to the point that this story cannot be enjoyed on its own. Because of the various sociological topics broached, it would make an excellent choice for book clubs.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Two for Sorrow free of charge from the author in conjunction with the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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One lucky reader, selected at random, will receive a copy of Two for Sorrow, generously provided by the author.
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The comment posted by Amanda was selected at random, so a copy of Two for Sorrow is being sent to Amanda!