Saturday, March 19, 2011
The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
Protagonist: Insp. Alan Grant
When a friend sent me a box full of books late last year, I knew what my series read would be this year: Josephine Tey, who many consider one of the best crime novelists, although her books are not as popular as others Golden Age writers, such as Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers.
To that end, I started with The Man in the Queue, her first, published in 1929. In the novel, a man is stabbed and killed in a line of people waiting to get into a popular show. No one saw him stabbed and, at first, no one claims to have even noticed the man waiting in line. Scotland Yard's Alan Grant painstakingly puts together a case, going from London to Scotland in pursuit of his suspect. But this not the usual whodunnit, or even a police procedural (although it reads like one). In fact, Tey disregarded the mystery conventions, according to mystery novelist Robert Barnard. "They all have crime at their heart," he notes, "but they are as far as possible from the 'body in the library' formula." That's so with this book, which gives us a nice surprise at the end.
This is Tey's first book, but the writing is already magnificent, such as this description of late-night London: “The midnight streets of London -- always so much more beautiful than the choppy crowded ones of the daytime -- fascinated him. At noon London made you a present of an entertainment, rich and varied and amusing. But at midnight she made you a present of herself; at midnight you could hear her breathe.” Or there's this phrase describing a waiter: “A new arrival took the table opposite, and Marcel, the geniality gone from his face like snowflakes on a wet pavement, went to listen to his needs with that mixture of tolerant superciliousness and godlike abstraction which he used to all but his five favourites.”
With writing like this, I can't wait to dip back into my Tey stash!