Saturday, June 07, 2014

A look at Nicola Upson's Fear in the Sunlight

This beautifully written psychological crime novel snuck up on me. For the longest while, I wasn't sure how well this book and I would get on – it's fourth in a series featuring novelist Josephine Tey, and every chapter seemed to introduce a new viewpoint. It was akin to walking into a crowded party where everyone already knew one another. (As it turns out in the case of the novel's characters, this is hardly true.) It was also a strange experience to see a historical author referred to by her pseudonym.  Scottish novelist Elizabeth Mackintosh, an enigmatic figure, wrote a number of mysteries as Tey, including the classic novel beloved by Ricardians, The Daughter of Time.

But I was slowly won over by the lingering moodiness of the tone, which sat in contrast with the idyllic setting of Portmeirion, an Italianate resort village in North Wales, and the alluring glamour of the film industry in the mid-1930s. It's at Portmeirion where a large cast has gathered to celebrate Josephine's 40th birthday, and where Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, hope to persuade her to let them turn her mystery A Shilling for Candles into a film.  Here, a number of characters, including both Josephine and her friend, Scotland Yard inspector Archie Penrose, meet up with events from their pasts: some welcome and some sinister, all complicated.

The title is perfect; Hitchcock articulates its meaning in the novel, and as with his movies, the author knows the best techniques for evoking feelings of dread that are all the more powerful for being unexpected. If the mystery element appears to take a frustratingly long time to emerge, the title should be kept in mind. There were details of the crimes committed that I found painfully realistic, and difficult to read.  Upson also skillfully illustrates the deep emotions of love and longing, and the sense of grief that permeates the earlier and later sections – set in 1954, two years after Tey's death – is among the most haunting that I've ever read.

Fear in the Sunlight was published by Harper Paperbacks in 2013.  I bought a Kindle copy after getting an email from BookPerk (HarperCollins' e-list for ebook bargains), and I read it on the plane going to and from BEA.  First in the series is An Expert in Murder.


  1. Her covers are always gorgeous too!

  2. I enjoyed reading this one..Glad to see you did too.


  3. The thirties' moodiness is moodier than any other decade's moodiness....