Nicola Upson

Fear in the Sunlight

"'‘Fear in the Sunlight’ is a truly delicious and sultry affair...'"


The year is 1954, two years after the sudden death of novelist, Josephine Tey and Archie Penrose’s good friend. He is readying himself for retirement but first he listens to a young detective from the States who has information that will transport Archie back eighteen years to the summer of 1936.

July 1936: Portmeirion. Josephine Tey is celebrating her fortieth birthday in the Welsh village with a few friends. Celebrating isn’t exactly what Josephine would call it, but there are reasons for her visit. She intends to meet with Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma who have shown interest in making her new crime novel, ‘A Shilling for Candles’ in to a film directed by the great man himself. Under the beating sun petty jealousies, all consuming hatred and a crime two decades old reverberate down the years to shatter the beautiful scenery and peaceful harmony to leave it tainted with blood, lots of blood.

And now, eighteen years later, Archie Penrose finds that what should have been the end to a case has yet more to spew from it’s own version of Pandora’s Box.

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In ‘Fear in the Sunlight’, Upson writes with a languorous style, wonderfully conveying the heat of Portmeirion and its visitors who languish like lizards under the punishing sunlight. Immediately you are transported, the sun a globe of fire, the cooling sea lapping at your toes and large quantities of liquids to keep the continuous thirst at bay. With Portmeirion as Upson’s backdrop to the play about to be enacted, she gives us a veritable Garden of Eden, green, lush and with a serpent at its heart. Upson is a huge fan of P.D. James who has been so instrumental in taking crime fiction to another level. In Upson’s latest, the ‘crimes’ do not start until late in the book, but beforehand she beautifully sets the ‘scene’ and delivers us three-dimensional performers who live, breath, laugh and in particular, hate. For many readers, the setting of the scene and the squabbling of the players is as important, if not more so, than the crimes committed. The story is so ‘human’ I could have been convinced it was fact rather than fiction I was reading. Thankfully, Upson has not turned Tey in to a ‘Miss Marple’, but the stories have simply evolved around factual events in Tey’s life. And this is where Upson’s meticulous research comes up trumps. With subtlety and an assured hand Upson builds a sequence of scenes that are loosely based on events that took place in Tey’s life – here it is centred around Tey’s book being optioned for film. But Upson isn’t solely in love with her main protagonist – everyone has a bite of the cherry and Archie Penrose is a creditable and loveable upright man who is the personification of law and order is also given his frustrations and loves as any normal man. Over this act of malice the great Hitchcock looms large and in some instances, the instigator and manipulator of the actors under his thrall. Upson is ambivalent to the man and although he brings another dimension to the story he does not become the centre of it. If anything Upson appears to prefer the company of Hitchcock’s wife, Alma Reville who quietly manoeuvres people with guile, steering them to her way of thinking without them realising. As with ‘Two For Sorrow’ the unfolding events in Upson’s latest are connected to a distant deed in the past with more connections between the cast of characters than the London Underground. But with clarity Upson brings everything together and right up to the end there are casualties and a marvellous twist placed on the very last page. Upson raises the curtain on a piece of theatre which slowly becomes oppressive as the heat leaches the energy from the air and brings repressed emotions and anger to the fore. ‘Fear in the Sunlight’ is a truly delicious and sultry affair and shows that after only four novels Upson is already more than capable to carry on the torch for well-crafted, intelligent crime fiction for the next generation of writers.

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