Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Man in the Queue: Josephine Tey

The Man in the Queue was the first mystery novel published by Josephine Tey, and the first to feature Inspector Alan Grant. I read this on a whim, looking for something lighter to read at the same time as I was reading The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel. The lovely cover of the  Collier paperback edition from 1988 on my shelf called to me. It is actually a reread; the last time I read it was back in the early 1990s.

Here is the description from the back of the trade paperback edition:

A long line had formed for the standing-room-only section of the Woffington Theatre. London’s favorite musical comedy of the past two years was finishing its run at the end of the week. Suddenly, the line began to move, forming a wedge before the open doors as hopeful theatergoers nudged their way forward. But one man, his head sunk down upon his chest, slowly sank to his knees and then, still more slowly, keeled over on his face. Thinking he had fainted, a spectator moved to help, but recoiled in horror from what lay before him: the man in the queue had a small silver dagger neatly plunged into his back. 

With the wit and guile that have made Inspector Grant a favorite of mystery fans, the inspector sets about discovering just how a murder occurred among so many witnesses, none of whom saw a thing.

I like Josephine Tey's Inspector Grant. He is intelligent, serious, and doesn't give up. He doesn't even give up when he has caught his quarry, and then begins to wonder if he has made a mistake. I love Tey's writing style, although that is hard to define. There are a lot of descriptions of various locations, in London and surrounding areas, and in Scotland, which sometimes slow down the story, but I enjoy those diversions. 

In Tey's mysteries, there is more focus on the characters and less on the crime and the solution. In this book, there are many secondary characters encountered in the investigation who are well-defined and interesting in their own right. Tey does not always write a puzzle in the fair play tradition. That is definitely true in this book, and I think that is also true in the 2nd Inspector Grant mystery, A Shilling for Candles.

Josephine Tey was a pseudonym used by Elizabeth Mackintosh. She was born in Scotland in 1896 and died in 1952.  For a while she taught physical training at schools in England; later she moved back to Scotland and began her career as a author.

Although this novel is set in London, there are many references to Scotland and Scottish people in the story, and Inspector Grant takes a trip to Scotland to pursue the suspect during the course of the investigation. That part of the story provides a great picture of Scotland in the late 1920's and is very entertaining.

The book was published in 1929, and there were some elements of ethnic prejudices and profiling. 

See also other reviews at The Art of Words and Leaves and Pages.


The edition at the top of the page is the one on my shelf that I started reading. Cover illustration by Pamela Patrick. Later the cover began detaching, and I changed over to this trade paperback edition. It has a very good introduction by Robert Barnard. Cover illustration by Richard Parisi.



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Publisher:   Simon & Schuster, 1995 (orig. pub. 1929)
Length:       254 pages
Format:       Trade paperback
Series:        Inspector Alan Grant, #1
Setting:       England & Scotland
Genre:        Police procedural
Source:       I purchased this book.


24 comments:

Rick Robinson said...

I've read something by They, I'm sure I have, but can't think what. Not this one, I'm sure, though it sounds interesting. I'm not even sure if I have anything by her on the shelves. I'm reading short stories just now, and with luck may have a post on same tomorrow.

TracyK said...

Rick, I hope things go well and that you do have a short story post tomorrow. I am concentrating on reviews right now, but I will be back with a short story post next week.

Tey's most famous book is The Daughter of Time, with Inspector Grant. She wrote two standalone mysteries, Brat Farrar and Miss Pym Disposes. I should reread those because it has been a long, long time since I reread them.

Sam Sattler said...

I don't think I've ever read anything by Josephine Tey, but this sounds maybe like a good place to start and get a sense of what her mysteries are like.

Cath said...

I found the later books in this series and the two standalones to be more to my taste than the first two books, but they were still good. My favourite was The Franchise Affair but I also loved The Daughter of TIme and To Love and Be Wise. She died far too young.

Rick Robinson said...

Ah, perhaps it was Miss Pym. Check the blog, you’ll see what Pongo is up to.

TracyK said...

Sam, Even though this is the first in the series, I don't know if it is the best one to start with. I liked it a lot though. I haven't reread any of the books after book 2 in so many years I don't remember much about them. I think if you start with any of them, you will see whether you like her writing style.

TracyK said...

Cath, I remember really liking The Franchise Affair when I read that the last time. I want to reread the stand alone books sometime soon, too. There are so few books by Tey, in comparison to some authors of her time.

TracyK said...

Rick, that is a very nice photo of Pongo on your blog, and I am glad the blog is working again.

Margot Kinberg said...

This one has such an interesting premise, too, Tracy: a person stabbed in the middle of a crowd. That's inventive, and I thought it really worked in this novel. And I like Inspector Grant, too.

TracyK said...

Margot, it is an unusual crime in mystery fiction, and I would not think that would be true. It seems like a very good opportunity to kill someone without being noticed.

I can't believe I waited this long to read another novel by Tey. I guess that there are just too many good books, both new and old.

John Kerry said...

I read this one years ago, after having read Daughter of Time which I really enjoyed. I agree she doesn't play fair in this one. Will have to give some of her other books a try sometime.

Christine said...

Miss Pym disposes is one of hers that I go back to - it's my favourite, though The Franchise Affair is very good too.

TracyK said...

John, I don't usually care if a mystery is fair play, but it is unusual for mysteries from the 20s and 30s (I think). I love reading Tey for other reasons.

TracyK said...

Christine, it has been so long since I read Miss Pym Disposes, but I am sure I liked it when I read it. I look forward to rereading it. Same for Brat Farrar.

CLM said...

I read all of Tey when a teen, I think. My mother got Three by Tey from the library, then Four, Five and Six by Tey. I picked up both volumes at library book sales many years later, I think. But I also got some backup copies over the years, mostly mass market, although I really like those Scribner trade paperback editions for their looks.

Brat Farrar is definitely my favorite. I got my book group to read The Daughter of Time when I lived in New York and everyone loved it, but I don't think I have tried to get them to read anything else. Maybe it is time!

I may have said this before but I bought the first Nicola Upson "continuation" of Tey book when it was new. Having read and reread Tey a lot, I was very impressed by the deftness of her writing (not that I *approve* of such continuations, exactly) and it was an extremely weird feeling reading about Tey but as if it was written by Tey. When I see others in the series, I buy them but I don't think I have read any other ones yet. I just went to check my shelf and they are not where I thought they were, which always irritates me (although who can I blame but myself?).

TracyK said...

Constance, I read all of Tey's books when I was younger, then again in the early 1990s. Actually that was when I discovered To Love and Be Wise, which I missed the first time around. So I should read that one again too.

I read the first Nicola Upson book featuring Tey a few years ago and enjoyed it. I have two more in the series so I should read those too. The fourth one also has Alfred Hitchcock as a character and I would like to read that one, but I want to read them in order.

Mary R. said...

I've read 5 of the 6 Grant mysteries by Tey and really liked them. The final one is on my TBR list.

TracyK said...

Mary, I wish I had put one of Tey's books on my 20 Books of Summer list, but that's the way it is. I still may be able to read one sometime this summer or soon after.

Debbie Rodgers said...

I'm always interested in what other readers have to say about this particular Tey. In my review several years ago, I said "the plot device of the unbidden confession stretched the limits of credibility and didn’t really put Inspector Grant in the best light"- and, indeed, it was the confession from the previously unknown character that I remember most about this book.
https://www.exurbanis.com/archives/3455

TracyK said...

Debbie, I did go read your review which is excellent. I mainly like reading the Josephine Tey books for the writing and the characters, and don't mind that the mystery is not up to par. But I will admit that I was disappointed by the ending and think Tey could have improved on it.

Previously I have had problems commenting on your posts, but I was successful today commenting on your last post from May 11th, so I am happy about that. I like to go back through your archives because you have written about books I have not tried and you do such a good job with reviewing.

Ryan said...

I've only read two of her books, I need to read more of her.

col2910 said...

Tracy, probably more you than me this one.

TracyK said...

Ryan, I think you would enjoy any of her books.

TracyK said...

Col, this one probably isn't for you.