After The Daughter of time, Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair (for which I discover that I failed to write a review – although it was quite good and I really recommend it!), I move on with delight to my next available Tey mystery, that proves as clever and timeless as the previous ones.
I simply love them all! Josephine Tey is a serious contender to Agatha Christie, all the more as her mysteries are less formulaic than those of the creator of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. Sadly, she didn’t write as many! I made up my mind to read them all if I can lay my hands on them.
Figure this out: a man is stabbed while waiting for tickets at a popular London theatre. Because of the thick crowd, some time passes before anyone notices foul play. Nobody has seen anything, and the victim is as anonymous as his aggressor, his pockets empty of any ID but for a gun. Who is he? Who killed him and why? These are the questions that Inspector Grant (a recurring hero, all British phlegm and chic) must answer.
I read this book while in Berlin, and I loved being reminded of the roaring twenties at that precise time (Alexanderplatz, here I come). The book has been published in 1929 (it’s Tey’s first publication) but the mood is not all flappers, jazz and automobiles. It’s a lot more subdued, with reminders of the first world war and the contrast between the modern city life and the antiquated habits of the country (Scotland in that case). There are some clichés (maids are all a bit dim), but on the whole the cast of characters is pretty believable and not black-and-white.
It’s a very unusual mystery (not a cozy, not really a police procedurals…) because Tey doesn’t respect the conventions of the Golden age mysteries. In opting for a murder in open air, she moves away from the traditional “body in the library”. In a London queue, the suspects are nearly infinite, and the hunt for the killer is not limited to London, even to England. Inspector Grant painstakingly investigates and even makes mistakes, and when he reaches his conclusion, we’re not quite sure who is the baddie and who is the victim. For a mystery of this period, the end is unconventional and a pleasant twist (I won’t tell anything more, you’ll have to go and see by yourself).
PS. Not only haven’t I reviewed the Franchise Affair, but I have also misplaced the book altogether! Isn’t it the start of an intriguing mystery, here at Smithereens’?