Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson – a review

Today is the anniversary of the hanging of Ruth Ellis, the last women to be executed in Britain in 1955 at Holloway Prison. Also today (as well as having a very nice cream tea at Bettys with some friends) I have just finished reading ‘Two for Sorrow’ by Nicola Upson. This is set in the 1930s and sees Josephine Tey (A real 1930s novelist) researching the story of Sachs and Walters, the Finchley baby farmers who in 1903 were the first women to be hanged at Holloway.

This book interlinks the story of the baby farmers with a murder at a prestigious dress and costume makers of a former Holloway Prison inmate, as well as a love story between some of the main characters.

I enjoyed this book, and it was a change from the more hardcore and gruesome murders I’ve been reading recently (although one of the murders itself was pretty grim) The novel was almost three elements in one, firstly the story of the Finchley Baby Farmers and some of the background to their crimes. Secondly the book is about a murder of a woman in 1930s London. She has come out of prison and is now ‘going straight’ working as a seamstress. Thirdly the book is an interesting insight into women at the time. It covers their treatment in prison, discusses same sex relationships, as well as showing how working women were seen in society during this period.

I felt all this was fascinating, and to me it gave a great account of how life was for women at this time, at least those in a big city. There was an air of optimism and excitement within this book. I also felt it was interesting to see some of the characters of the day appear now and again, such as Noel Coward performing at a charity ball.

To me the actual murder storyline was a bit dull, however there were enough unexpected twists to keep me reading to the end. The book was also quite lengthy, with very long chapters which at times did make it seem a bit hard going.  

Yet as I’ve mentioned before, what makes this book so good is the historical and true crime element.  Just as I suspect people remember Ruth Ellis more for being the last woman to be executed at Holloway, rather than her crime. The Finchley Baby Farmers are remembered for being the first women executed and the first chapter of this novel is a haunting description of a woman facing her final moments.

Nicola Upson is talking in a slot called ‘The Golden Age?’ where two authors whose novels are based in the 20s and 30s debate with two authors whose novels are set in the modern day about what they feel is best. I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this ‘Golden Age’ novel so am looking forward to listening to this debate and I’d also be interested in reading one of Josephine Tey’s novels to compare.


Filed under book review, Theakstons Festival

2 responses to “Two for Sorrow by Nicola Upson – a review

  1. The Mother

    This book sounds interesting, I might actually read it myself!

  2. The Mother

    Well I’ve finally read the book and actually enjoyed it. Its rather complex at times, but very well written and there was a surprise at the end which was interesting!

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