Review of the “The Death of Lucy Kyte” by Nicola Upson.

ChainLightning-2Recently, in a fit of not finding any fiction to my fancy, I discovered Nicola Larson. I have only read one of her books, but I was impressed and have ordered every title of hers from the library and will buy the additional one they don’t own. I don’t often say this, but Nicola Upson is an English author who writes for women, evocatively, emotionally, inventively, and thoroughly. In other words I feel her. She thinks like me and encounters her world in patches of discovery that enchant. I want to read more and that excites me.

Upson’s thrillers concentrate on a heroine named Josephine Tey, a fictional writer of thrillers and plays on English noblemen of days gone past. She has an independent and successful career during the 1920’s and 1930’s and though her heroine is of Scottish heritage, she lives in London and in small towns that dot the countryside. Upson is not fast reading nor are her “thrillers” full of suspenseful plot twists and impossible situations. Instead the plots are well thought out and slow going, but in a good way. I thought for a few days which section I wanted to use to illustrate Upson’s lyrical prose and decided to just pick a page-any page-and go from there. Upson is like that, there is magic on every page.  This following is a deft bit of setting written about the heroine, who has just inherited a old country home from her godmother she never knew.

“The gable end of the cottage was flanked by cherry trees, and she sat down on a rough-iron bench, uneven and twisted with age but still warm from the heat of the day. There was a little more order here, she thought: an old variety of climbing rose had been given its head for years, covering the cottage wall and obscuring a good deal of both windows, but its roots were not choked with weeds like every other plant in the garden and she wondered if it had been a favourite or if its proximity to the back door made it easier to care for.”

This short passage is just a delicious sample of Upson and her ability to put you square in the middle of an overgrown garden, but she does it with style and grace and makes you want to know more. She also writes of emotion with equal grace when the heroine remembers her dead mother after a disturbing dream about her in the seemingly haunted cottage she has inherited.

“The sobs were violent and raw, and they woke her. A pile of letters had fallen from her lap into the grate, one perilously close to the fire, and she caught it just as it began to smoulder. Wide awake now, she wiped the tears away, but the image of her mother’s face continued to haunt her-that, and the knowledge that what she had felt in the dream, along with the shock and the grief and the guilt, was relief.”

Josesphine Tey, Upson’s intellectual author heroine is as sure of herself as she is unsure of herself and that is evident in every page. In many ways she flaunts convention and has a female lover in a time when that would have been unheard of (a woman with her own complicated story), as she juggles an rather insular writing career, a career that she makes work.  But her heroine is also fragile, like all of us, and that makes Upson such a joy to read. No character is black and white with Upson, ever. All characters, including the author’s heroine have shades of gray and a reservoir of doubts and delusions. I loved that about Upson’s characters and I am looking forward to reading more. Upson helps me to understand myself as she reaches inside her characters and twists their resolve thereby shaking loose all matter of intrigue and sustained emotion that moves the plot forward in all sorts of convincing ways. What more could you ask of any book, no matter what the genre?  Upson makes you think and that skill is valuable and makes her fiction relevant and familiar at the same time.  In short, she enchants.