Josephine Tey is brought face to face with her own ghosts when she inherits a remote Suffolk cottage from her godmother, the actress Hester Larkspur. Red Barn Cottage stands close to the site of one of England’s most notorious nineteenth century murders, and holds a time capsule of secrets that Josephine must unravel to solve the mysteries of Hester’s life – and her death. As she gets closer to the truth, Josephine is horrified to realise that the cottage has the power to destroy the peace of a village still stained by the shame of its past.
The Death of Lucy Kyte is the fifth instalment in the popular Josephine Tey series. There is much to like: the main character, a fictionalised Josephine Tey, the setting – interbellum Great Britain – and a clever mix of historical and fictional characters. Upson’s previous novel, Fear in the Sunlight featured Alfred and Alma Hitchcock. In this one Wallis Simpson, waiting for her divorce from Ernest in Felixstowe, has a walk-on part. A small but very efficient way of bringing to live the period. But more importantly the book centres around the Red Barn Murder and the shadow it still casts over the village of Polstead.
For most of the novel Josephine is on her own in a hostile environment. The cottage she has inherited seems haunted and the villagers are unwelcoming to say the least, with the pleasant exception of vicar’s wife, Hilary Lampton, part of the long tradition in English literature of gently rebellious and eccentric vicar’s wives.
This is a dark and unsettling novel, ideally read on a dusky autumn afternoon, the curtains drawn, a fire lit and a cup of tea within reach.