Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola Upson

Hitchcock in a murder mystery? Yes, please!

Synopsis of Fear in the Sunlight by Nicola UpsonSummer 1936. Mystery writer Josephine Tey joins her friends in the resort village of Portmeirion, Wales, to celebrate her fortieth birthday. Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, are there to sign a deal to film Josephine’s novel, A Shilling for Candles. But things get out of hand when one of Hollywood’s leading actresses is brutally slashed to death in a cemetery near the village. The following day, as fear and suspicion take over in a setting where nothing—and no one—is quite what it seems, Chief Inspector Archie Penrose becomes increasingly unsatisfied with the way the investigation is ultimately resolved. Several years later, another horrific murder, again linked to a Hitchcock movie, drives Penrose back to the scene of the original crime to uncover the shocking truth.

My two cents

Gorgeous cover, check. Legendary Alfred Hitchcock figures as a character, check. A delicious mystery, check (you know how I love my Agatha Christies).  And very intriguing title, check. Who wouldn't jump at a chance to read and review this?
"Fear of the dark is natural, we all have it, but fear in the sunlight...where it is so unexpected—that is interesting." - Alfred Hitchcock (From Charlotte Chandler's It's Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock - a Personal Biography)
This is the fourth installment in Nicola Upson's Josephine Tey mysteries. I am unfamiliar with her work and a quick search reveals that Tey is Scottish mystery/writer, a woman described as extremely private so this series is a nod to her life as a writer and as a woman of pre-war 1930s.

Josephine Tey
The book opens in 1954 with Chief Inspector Archie Penrose being asked by a detective to recall incidents surrounding a brutal murder in the summer of 1936. This is the same summer that his close friend, Josephine Tey, celebrated her 40th birthday in Portmeirion, Wales.

That summer, Josephine also met with Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, to discuss making Josephine’s novel, A Shilling for Candles into the next Hitchcock movie. A preliminary roster of actors have also gathered at Hitchcock's bidding and in keeping with his eccentric reputation (and rather sadistic manipulator), he plays gags and mind games, getting a kick out of their reactions—in the name of getting a better film.

In a span of a day, two women are found brutally murdered: a legendary actress, and a local Portmeiron waitress. As the police investigate, not everyone is who they claim to be—and suspicion and paranoia set in. All too conveniently, the murderer is found and put away ... but 20 years later, the question is asked once again: whodunit and why? It takes twenty years for the true motivations that led to murder to come to light.

Alfred Hitchcock
Setting the stage seemed a bit of overkill ... it plodded along, introducing another layer, another character, another sub-story. *Yawn* Come on, where's my Psycho? I was wondering when the mystery murderer would actually make a guest appearance.

But when it did finally kick in, the exquisitely descriptive writing brings us into an engrossing and complex psychological mystery. Quite a heavy and disturbing read, it got me reading until late at night (which in hindsight probably wasn't such a great idea): the darkness of the mystery has its own draw but be warned that the description of the murder is extremely graphic and there are several violent scenes that can be rather distressing to read.

Overall, this is more suspenseful thriller, a psychological study and wonderfully atmospheric. Its historical side is more subtle—the picturesque village of Portmeiron during the 1930s and the inside view of filmmaking lends a whole other layer for which this mystery play to out. (I recently read one of Jaqueline Winspeare's Maisie Dobbs novel and here I score another goodie!)

{A somewhat spoiler: I disliked the ending. The tying up of loose ends was unsatisfying for me as the loose ends within the story aren't evident loose ends, so I never really had overwhelming sense to see justice dealt. Plus the motivations seemed overly complicated. }


The characters: The line-up of characters are varied and many, their backstories complicated.

While the premise of Alfred Hitchcock as a character initially appealed to me, I found him to be quite the caricature and I tired of him after a while. I was rather intrigued with the character of Archie Penrose, whose diverse connections and his integrity as a character kept the cogs of justice grinding.

Alma Reville
from Wikipedia
As for the women in this book, yes, bring them on! Alma Reville may have been known as Lady Hitchcock but she is depicted as extremely talented and astute, and a film editor and artist in her own right, definitely not a mere sidekick! She obviously pulled her weight in the marriage and in the professional collaboration with her husband. Highlighted in the couple's dynamic is their dilemma of moving professionally from England into Hollywood. 

Josephine Tey, meanwhile, is an interesting study. A reserved and unassuming novelist and playwright, she is flattered with Hitchcock's attention but she doesn't hold on to any illusions that her boo would come out unscathed when written for film. The book also touches on her relationship with long-time lover Marta, and delved quite a bit into the quandaries of a working woman in the 1930s.


Uh-ohs: The plot was a bit convoluted to my taste. As more characters were introduced, I started to get extremely confused. I naturally flipped to the beginning of the book, which also has a map of Portmeiron, hoping to find the cast of characters. Nothing. (Since I am reading an uncorrected proof, maybe they'll put in the list of characters in the beginning so people can keep track).

Another niggling thing was that I didn't realize that this was part of a series since it doesn't explicitly say so. This book can be read as a standalone, but I couldn't help but wonder what I had missed in the three previous books. 

Verdict: An atmospheric psychological mystery set in 1930s Portmeiron. Fans of old Alfred Hitchcock maybe a bit disappointed but 1930s movie buffs will hip-hooray.

Read this if you:  
  • love a good dark mystery, heavy on the psychology 
  • enjoy strong female characters
  • are a 1930s-1950s movie buff
  • can keep track of the goings on of more than 5 characters 
Nicola Upson

About Nicola Upson

Nicola Upson is the author of the Josephine Tey mysteries: An Expert in Murder, Angel with Two Faces, and Two for Sorrow. She has written for a variety of publications, including the New Statesman, where she was a crime fiction critic. She also regularly contributes to BBC radio and has worked in the theater for ten years. She divides her time between Cambridge and Cornwall.
Visit Nicola at her website, www.nicolaupson.com.

TLC book tours
Check out the rest of the tour here.

I received an uncorrected proof of this book from TLC Book Tours in order to participate in this tour.

1 comment

  1. Sounds like a book to be read during the light of day and never after dark (at least not for me)!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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