London Rain by Nicola Upton

3 Mins read

If you like your detective fiction with a pin-sharp historical setting, then Nicola Upson is the author for you. Her series of novels features real-life Golden Age writer Josephine Tey as a detective, and Upson’s attention to detail is jaw-dropping in its thoroughness.

Suffolk-born Upson read English at Downing College, Cambridge and this city also has a part to play in the story at hand. She was the winner of an Escalator/Arts Council England award in 2006 for her debut novel, An Expert in Murder, the first in the Josephine Tey series. Among Upson’s early fans and supporters was the acclaimed PD James, who described her debut as, “…the arrival of a new and assured talent.” It seems fitting that London Rain is dedicated to James, who died while this work was in progress, and whom Upson describes in her acknowledgements as ‘a great friend’.

London Rain is number six in the series and opens in May 1937, unsurprisingly enough in a rainy London. The capital is teeming with visitors who have arrived to witness the coronation of King George VI. It is only a short time since Edward VIII took the throne, but his abdication has led to an eagerly anticipated repeat event that has captured the imagination of royalists the world over. It is also a milestone day for the BBC, as the event will be the first covered by television cameras – so the radio arm of the Corporation is on its mettle… None more so than Anthony Beresford, who will be covering the return to the palace of the newly-crowned king. His wife Vivienne has had an important part to play, too. As stand-in editor of the Radio Times, she has produced an edition that is selling like coronation flags.

While the broadcast media prepares to hail King George VI, real-life-author-turned-fictional-sleuth Josephine Tey is in town to supervise a radio dramatisation of one of her books. All is going well until a particularly lippy photographer lets slip that Anthony Beresford and the play’s leading lady are an item, and within earshot of Anthony’s wife too. It sets in play a domino effect of events that will lead to murder – and as Nicola Upson/Josephine Tey fans will know, our heroine is never one to turn away from a bit of juicy, if illicit, investigating off her own bat (much to the eternal annoyance of her good friend, Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose).

When Anthony Beresford is gunned down we readers know exactly who was holding the gun. And the murderer makes no attempt to run away and hide; instead, Vivienne goes home and waits for the police to arrive. The powers that be are certain she is tied into a second murder also committed on Coronation Day, but Penrose and Josephine are unconvinced of her guilt and Vivienne herself vehemently denies any involvement. As the pair follow their own widely differing lines of enquiry, some pretty murky past deeds are uncovered…

I am a newcomer to the world of Upson and Tey, but never felt at a disadvantage here. The tale is liberally peppered with back story which will bring you up to speed without hindering the narrative flow and I soon grew to know and like the main protagonists. But it is the historical context which I found most compelling, with a combination of real life and fiction that is subtly mixed and finely judged. I was truly transported back in time and although the sun was shining outside as I read this book, I almost felt like putting up an umbrella, so wet and well defined were the scenes. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the work and machinations contained within the walls of the BBC’s Broadcasting House – which had only been open for a handful of years at this point. There is enough mystery and intrigue to keep the reader guessing and I for one thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

Faber & Faber

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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