Angel with Two Faces by Nicola Upson
6 September, 2010
I’m a big fan of Josephine Tey’s mysteries and jumped at the chance of reading Nicola Upson’s novel featuring Tey as a fictional detective in her first outing, An Expert in Murder. I’ve long been a fan of historical fiction, and when that genre became popular in the late 80s, medieval mysteries were all the rage. I gobbled them all up, from Ellis Peters to P.C. Doherty, Candace Robb and Susanna Gregory to name a handful. You can find my list of favourite historical mysteries here. Now, twenty years later, the early twentieth century and the interwar years, my other favourite period in history, seems to be all the rage. I enjoyed Upson’s first novel and enjoyed her second, Angel with Two Faces too.
Like Tey’s novels, there is an undercurrent of darkness and claustrophobia that permeates the story. It did take me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I enjoyed it tremendously. The pace was fast, the secrets were thick and I liked the characters Upson drew in the tale, especially Josephine and her friend, Inspector Archie Penrose.
In Angel with Two Faces, Archie has returned to his childhood home in Cornwall for a holiday to be followed by Josephine. After many estranged years apart, the two have resumed their friendship, complicated by the Great War and the loss of Josephine’s fiancée and Archie’s best friend. But this holiday is marred by the death of Archie’s childhood friend Harry Pinching, found drowned in the lake. Harry’s death exposes the crack in the idyllic Cornish life, and soon Archie and Josephine find themselves embroiled in secrets and lies that can no longer stay hidden. When the village curate, one of Harry’s closest friends, is killed, they must find out what happened to Harry in order to find the killer.
Although set in the interwar years, this novel read more like a modern thriller. The secrets and shocks came thick and fast and the pace kept up until the end. I really liked the melancholy and darkness in the novel, but felt that maybe there were too many shocking truths that were unearthed in too short a novel.
One of the things I liked about Upson’s series is the relationship between Josephine and Archie. Archie has been in love with her since they first met before the Great War, and Josephine is aware of it. But the ghost of her lover and his friend is still with them, and although both have moved on, they are unable to go beyond maintaining their fragile friendship. We’ll see what happens. In a way, Upson doesn’t get too bogged down with her research and the minutiae of interwar life; there is just enough to give a sense of period which doesn’t take away from the plot.
I know there have been some mixed reviews of this book, but I enjoyed it and look forward to the next in the series, Two for Sorrow. And can I just say how beautiful the cover art is?
I read this as part of the Thriller and Suspense Challenge 2010.