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Publisher's Summary

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

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  • Sires
  • Chesapeake, OH, United States
  • 11-19-11

Mystery of the Effects on an Edwardian Crime

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.)

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • C. Telfair
  • Shepherdstown, WV, United States
  • 10-28-16

Fair Game?

I was very conflicted by the two books in this series to which I listened. On the one hand, Nicola Upson is a good writer. The subject of "Two for Sorrow", although difficult and horrifying (it's about Victorian baby murders), is explored with delicacy and nuance. Upson reflects author Josephine Tey's interest in exploring sensational historical themes with an eye toward sifting through the more hysterical claims in an attempt to find a more objective truth (just listen to Tey's wonderful "The Daughter of Time"}. Although the criminals here cannot be sympathetic, Upson (through her fictionalized version of Tey) attempts to put these "monsters" in some context.

That said, my primary argument with the books (I also read "An Expert on Murder") is one of fairness to a real-life, prominent character who has been fictionalized. According to all accounts, Josephine Tey (one of two writing names used by Scottish author Elizabeth MacKintosh) was an extremely private person. Despite success writing mystery novels and plays, she granted no interviews in her lifetime and did not even, in her final year of life, share with her closest friends and associates that she was fighting terminal cancer.

I have no argument with LGBTQ themes in literature. These topics can be appreciated by readers of all sexual orientations, and Upson presents lesbian characters with wit and sensitivity as just one of the plot elements in both books.

It's a fact that many mystery series employ authors of the past as sort-of detectives. Sometimes that can be fun, but I believe Josephine Tey especially would have hated being a character in these books - portrayed in any way, no matter how sympathetically. Should a modern author "invade" the privacy of a deceased fellow writer in such a manner? I'm certain there's nothing illegal in the practice - and perhaps not even anything unethical - but It makes me uneasy.

So, for Josephine Tey (a writer whose works I have very much enjoyed), I do not recommend this series. Read or listen to the original Tey novels instead.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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absolutely yummy

This has everything: plot, plot twists, my favourite narrator and a relatively new author from whom I hope to hear a lot more.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Very dark. Very.

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.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Good mystery; great narration

I liked this better than the previous book. I found the mystery quite interesting. One of the murders is especially gruesome. And I didn't care for all of Josephine's choices.

As with the previous books, the writing is well done and the narration by Davina Porter is excellent.

I read the synopsis for the next in this series and I'm not sure it interests me. Maybe I want to know there's ultimately a happy ending before I invest more time and emotion in Josephine Tey.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Davina Porter Saves the Story

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

I love the interaction between Josephine, the Motley sisters and Archie. The story was a real departure from the first two books. This one has Josephine writing a mystery based on a real crime, and deals heavily with her research for that book.

Have you listened to any of Davina Porter’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I've listened to many books narrated by Ms. Porter. She does a beautiful job once again, and I especially love her Scottish accent.

Any additional comments?

I was really dismayed that the author thought it necessary to add explicit sex to the story. It really wasn't necessary, and I just skipped over it. I don't think I missed anything important. The character of Marta bothered me in previous references and now I'm starting to dislike her, and not because of her sexual orientation. The other regular characters are just wonderful, but Marta is pretty one-note and that note is starting to grate on my nerves. I hope she takes a long vacation and gets some much needed rest.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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First half pretty boring

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.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Great narrator, but

Too much dwelling on the personal relationship between Josephine and one of the other female characters. It was a discordant note that got in the way of the story (which did seem to drone on and on because of the extraneous stuff). Giving up on Upson.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Social Commentary or Mystery?

I read mysteries to enjoy the mystery. I do not care to explore any characters sexuality in the process. I enjoyed the first book immensely, but by the time the third came along it was as if the writer was looking for reasons to shock the reader. The murders became more brutal and the "relationships" more "salon". In hind sight I wish I had not purchased the third book and will not be reading any further in the series. I happily recommend the first two books.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Best Narrator Ever!

Looking forward to the next book in the series. I wish the author would stick to the main story, though, and skip the romance. Too much time was spent on the Josephine/Marta arc.