Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey

Protagonist: Insp. Alan Grant
Setting: London
Rating: 4.6
When actress Christine Clay is found dead on the beach, suspicion immediately falls on the young man whom she had been hosting at her house in the English countryside -- Robin Tisdall. Insp. Grant and the police force have enough evidence, and even a motive -- the actress had recently written a codicil to her will, leaving her California house to Tisdall, whom she had just met. But no investigation -- at least, fictional investigation -- is ever that easy. And just what did Clay mean by leaving “a shilling for candles” to her brother?

Tey’s novels have a lot of wit and charm in them. In one passage, a police sergeant assesses Tisdall, emotional one moment, composed the next: “Light-weights, these moderns. No real emotion about anything. Just hysteria. What they called love was just a barn-yard exercise; they thought anything else “sentimental.” No discipline. No putting up with things. Every time something got difficult, they ran away. Not slapped enough in their youth. All this modern idea about giving children their own way. Look what it led to. Howling on the beach one minute and then cool as cucumber the next.”

Tey doesn't exactly play fair with the reader -- we can't figure out the killer because a vital clue is withheld from us -- but I'm OK with that. When reading Tey, it's more about the journey than the arrival.

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