The Dead of Winter is kept low-key by its cool tone, but remains insidiously gripping. At the St Aubyn family’s Cornish castle, a house party in 1938 has a famous guest, film star Marlene Dietrich, resisting attempts by the Nazi party to dragoon her. A blizzard strikes and so does a killer. Fortunately, Tey and her police friend Archie Penrose are on hand.
The ninth novel in Nicola Upson’s fine series featuring the Golden Age crime writer Josephine Tey is set in December 1938. The Dead of Winter (Faber £12.99) sends Tey and her lover, Marta, to a glamorous Christmas gathering on St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. Their expectations are upended by the gruesome murder of one of the guests, carried out at a time when the mount is cut off by the tide. Tey and her friends are trapped with a killer in an absorbing plot that has its roots in the brutal poverty of the 1930s.
A group of strangers, including Marlene Dietrich, keenly aware of the gathering storm in Europe, and having contributed to a fund for Jewish refugees, is looking forward to a jolly good time on the island. However, before you can say Agatha Christie, one of them is murdered. After all: “You never know who you might find at the other end of a cracker.” DCI Archie Penrose must find out whodunnit. There is a truly brilliant twist, and oodles of excitement, yet it is the quality of the writing — “the peculiar beauty of blood upon snow” — that makes this pulpy novel not just for Christmas but for life.