They were the most horrific crimes of a new century: the murders of newborn innocents for which two British women were hanged at Holloway Prison in 1903. Decades later, mystery writer Josephine Tey has decided to write a novel based on Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, the notorious “Finchley baby farmers,” unaware that her research will entangle her in the desperate hunt for a modern-day killer.
A young seamstress—an ex-convict determined to reform—has been found brutally slain in the studio of Tey’s friends, the Motley sisters, amid preparations for a star-studded charity gala. Despite initial appearances, Inspector Archie Penrose is not convinced this murder is the result of a long-standing domestic feud—and a horrific accident involving a second young woman soon after supports his convictions. Now he and his friend Josephine must unmask a sadistic killer before more blood flows—as the repercussions of unthinkable crimes of the past reach out to destroy those left behind long after justice has been served. .
©2010 Nicola Upson (P)2011 AudioGO
I like mysteries (particularly British ones, historical fiction and nonfiction, science fiction and fantasy.
I downloaded this book from Audible during one of their recent sales. I had no previous experience with either the author or the narrator. Davina Porter does a good job. Her voice is a bit mature, but the historical inflections (Edwardian and 1930's) are quite good. It was a pleasure to listen to her read this book. A good narrator adds a whole new dimension to a story.
On to the book. This book deals with a great many issues that were significant at the time (and remain significant.
It opens with a scene in a women's prison where a prisoner is being prepared to go to her death. The viewpoint is that of a female prison warden. The prisoner is an actual historical figure, the operator of a lying-in house where women could go to give birth. She was convicted of being an accomplice in the death of at least one child left in her hands by desperate mothers. She leaves behind a daughter of her own in the care of her husband, who was not considered a party to her crimes although they lived in the same house. This scene (in the book)was written by Miss Tey, based on information provided to her by a former school mistress.
The plot is too complicated to go into more detail. However it deals with betrayal, familial love, death penalty and its unintended consequences, poverty, careers for women and social history. There's also some entertaining gossip about historical figures of the theatre.
It's important to remember that after World War I there were changes in English society. The death or disability of a good portion of a whole generation of young men left women with new responsibilities and opportunity. Sexual relationships were both more open and more divergent from the stated norm. Novels written in the period, specifically Mary Renault's contemporary set novels, supports this without having to recourse to historical sources. I thought the author handled this aspect sensitively within the themes of trust and betrayal.
Recommended for the fans of grittier mysteries. It's not light reading (or listening), but I couldn't turn it off.
(And for those who are interested, Claymore house where Amelia Sach took in her clients still stands and there is a picture of it along with the research of a descendent on the Daily Mail web site.)
Jessica a reader
This has everything: plot, plot twists, my favourite narrator and a relatively new author from whom I hope to hear a lot more.
I read the first 2 books in the series and they were somewhat similar to what Tey might have written. This one is grim, dark and really unpleasant--if you don't really want to Go There. The murder was grisly, the subject a real downer. I felt betrayed. If you like modern, gory violence this is your book.
If you like classic mysteries, run fast in the opposite direction.
Davina Porter's narration was excellent as always, and probably the only reason I was able to trudge through this book. There were interesting twists near the end, but hardly enough to justify the hours invested in the first 60% of the book. Save your credits for something more engaging.
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