Publishing year: 2008
This book is the first one in a series whose main character is Josephine Tey. This woman is a real person, who used to be a writer of mystery books.
At the beginning of this novel Josephine is travelling from Inverness to London as one of her plays is closing. On the train she meets Elspeth Simmons, who recognizes Josephine because she is a fan of her plays and very fond of theatre. Josephine and Elspeth spend the trip together, and Josephine learns that Elspeth is adopted and helps her widowed mother run a milliner’s shop. She’s going to London because her uncle and aunt live there and she usually travels there to bring them material for their shop. When they reach London, Josephine introduces her to the leading actress in the play, Lydia Beaumont, and it is then that Elspeth realizes she’s forgotten her bags on the train and returns to retrieve them. In the compartment somebody comes after her; she recognizes the person, who hugs her and in that instant she feels a stabbing pain and realizes she’s dying. She is found later with a hat pin sticking out of her middle, which later will be found out that wasn’t what killed her. A piece of hair had been hacked off the nape of her neck, which Inspector Archie Penrose finds intriguing. Apart from that, two dolls have been placed on the seats opposite where she has been left lying; those dolls represent the king and queen of Josephine’s play, and the police also find an iris and a message that is also a line from Josephine’s play. Archie Penrose is the policeman in charge of the investigation; he’s a friend of Josephine’s, and since she got to know the girl, Josephine helps him when he goes to interview Elspeth’s uncle and aunt.
There are many characters in this novel. I imagine that Elspeth’s killer is related to the play that is being performed in London, so I guess we are likely to find the killer among this assortment of personalities.
There is Lydia Beaumont, the leading actress, who is in a relationship with Marta Fox.
Ronney and Lettie Motley are two sisters in charge of the play’s wardrobe. Josephine stays with them whenever she comes to London.
Bernard Aubrey is the producer of the play. His next project is a film and also he is taking Josephine’s play on a tour round England. Aubrey is claustrophobic since during the war he was working in digging tunnels in France, and more than once he suffered the explosions and dangers of it.
Esme McCracken also works at the theatre; I think her job involves decoration of the stage. She’s a lonely woman, and she sees Aubrey walking under her window every day and looking at her, but when she’s at work at the theatre, the man doesn’t even recognize her.
Rafe Swinburn is another actor, a womaniser, and one who seems to be difficult to deal with.
John Terry is the leading actor in the play but he’s disillusioned with the role in the last week, and that’s why he refused to go on the play tour. He admits his life is all about acting, and that’s causing problems with his male lover.
Lewis Fleming is another actor, whose wife is in a nursing home since she has cancer. He hasn’t told anybody about his wife’s ailment, and what people are saying is that she has abandoned him.
And the last character so far is Hedley White, who works also in the stage decoration. We gather that he has the job thanks to Mr. Aubrey, and Hedley feels this is a job he would never have been able to aspire to. We learn later that Hedley was Elspeth’s boyfriend, and he sent her first-class train tickets to travel to London a week before so that she could see the play she loved so much. The police is suspicious of this young man, and I can’t help but wonder how he could afford to buy first-class tickets for Elspeth.
The beginning is interesting. At first, when you get to meet the characters, it can be confusing because there are so many, but I think as the novel progresses, I’ll get to know them better and even make my own guesses about the person who killed sweet Elspeth.