On her way to London from Inverness on the train, author Josephine Tey meets a young woman, Elspeth Simmons. Tey is the author of a play currently enjoying a very successful run in the West End, Richard of Bordeaux. It appears that Elspeth is a huge fan of the play and has already seen it several times. As the play is entering its final week, Elspeth is seeing it one last time, with her boyfriend, who works at the New Theatre where it's being shown.
Josephine and Elspeth get on like a house on fire and Josephine is looking forward to seeing her again later that week. They part on the station platform when Elspeth finds she's left something on the train and goes back for it. It's not until the next day that Josephine discovers from her friend, DI Archie Penrose, that Elspeth was brutally murdered in the railway carriage. A note left at the scene ties the killing to the play, Richard of Bordeaux.
Archie and Josephine set about trying to find the murderer but the plot is very thick indeed. So many people at the theatre had the opportunity but why on earth would anyone want to kill an innocent and charming young girl? Archie is convinced it's a case of mistaken identity and that Josephine was the intended victim. But it turns out to be not that simple and nothing is what is seems in this heartbreaking and complicated case.
When this book was first published back in 2008 I seem to recall seeing various comments about the use of a real person in a fictional book... whether or not it was a bit questionable. I was on the fence about it then and I still am to a certain extent. We're more used to it now of course. Dickens and Wilkie Collins were both used in Drood by Dan Simmons, there's a fantasy series, the name of which escapes me at the moment, that uses a clutch of real authors and so on and so on. On the one hand it does feel a bit odd but on the other... this is actually a very enjoyable book.
I have to admit that theatre based plots are not always my favourite - it's not a world I'm particularly fascinated by and they do tend to have hordes of characters whose identity I have problems keeping tabs on. And this one was no exception, although I did get there in the end. Plus, I do find I have minimal patience with the shenanigans of the acting fraternity. All that prima donna behaviour and no one having the nerve to stand up to them...
To be honest, I think the reason the book was saved for me was Josephine herself who was depicted as a very down to earth, ordinary person and her and the police officer, Archie Penrose, did make rather a good team. The mystery was also rather good and it wasn't until close to the end that I worked out who had done the deed. I had kind of worked out the whys and the wherefores, although it was quite tricky, but not the 'who' exactly. The background of the aftermath of WW1 and the tunnellers was seamlessly interwoven with a 'family secrets' type of plot and is the kind of thing I really enjoy. (Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is probably the best fictional book I've read on the WW1 tunnelling subject but it does waffle rather a lot.)
All in all a very good read and I'm pleased to have book 2 ready to go. It's Angel with Two Faces and is set in Cornwall, which is a real plus for me, and I do enjoy it when this kind of series gets away from London and into the shires so to speak. Yet another new series for me... exactly what I need! LOL!