Sunday, 16 August 2009

Angel With Two Faces - Nicola Upson

Cornwall, with its long-standing reputation as a land of wild coastal landscapes at the mercy of the elements, mysterious legends and white witches and "piskeys" creating mayhem on moonlit nights, is the perfect setting for this tale of dark secrets and murder. Inspector Archie Penrose returns home to his family estate hoping for a peaceful, uneventful break but before long, there are more suspicious deaths than you can shake a stick at - and as he struggles to unravel the mystery, just about everyone grabs the wrong of the aforementioned stick as deep dark family secrets and deceptions come to light.

Fiction is at the very heart of the story. The magnificent but dangerously exposed Minack open-air theatre provides a stunning backdrop to one of the crimes. Josephine Tey (which is the name of a real-life Golden Age crime writer), Archie's novelist friend who has been invited along to the supposed peace and quiet of the estate so that she can make a start on her new book, is dragged into the enquiry and soon finds out that in this community, where everybody knows everybody else's business, they only know the more or less-fictionalised version that each individual has decided to present to the world. As one earth-shattering confidence and revelation leads to another, it becomes apparent that nothing is quite as it seems and each person has their own interpretation of the facts. Are these deaths murders ? accidents ? suicides ? When the truth is finally established, everybody needs to come to terms with past actions and their consequences, with often poignant results.

Part criminal investigation, part exploration of a close-knit Cornish community, the novel is by often poignant and tragic. It will keep you on the edge of your seat and guessing right until the final page. For the first half of the book, I had great difficulty situating the story in a specific period. While references to workhouses, old pennies and people losing friends, loved ones and youthful innocence in the Great War set it firmly in the past, the female characters seemed feisty and independent enough to be at ease in a totally modern setting. The author eventually lets slip that it is 1935.

I was surprised to see that this is the second instalment in a series of books featuring Josephine Tey, but I enjoyed it no less for not having read the first part. I will definitely go back now to fill in some background and eagerly await the sequels.

Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Faber and Faber (2 Jul 2009)

ISBN-10: 0571237959
ISBN-13: 978-0571237951

star rating : 5/5

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