A Shilling for Candles (1936) – Josephine Tey
A Shilling For Candles is the second of Josephine Tey’s mysteries about Alan Grant. Tey was not yet the great writer that she would become in the years after World War II, when she published Daughter of Time, Brat Farrar, and The Franchise Affair, among others, but there are some wonderful scenes and an intriguing mystery nonetheless.
The body of a famous actress, Christine Clay, is found on the beach near the cottage she has borrowed for a time from a friend. Her nobleman-husband is out of the country at the time, but she has been sharing the cottage with Robert Tisdall, a young man who has recently squandered a fortune. When Clay’s will names Tisdall as the beneficiary of her ranch in California, he becomes Grant’s number one suspect and then a fugitive from the law. The middle part of the book, which follows the sixteen year old Erica Burgoyne as she tries to prove Tisdall’s innocence, has the quirky charm that Tey’s admirers have come to expect; Erica is indeed an engaging heroine. It’s worth noting that when Alfred Hitchcock adapted A Shilling for Candles for the screen (as the film Young and Innocent in 1937), he chose to dramatize the Erica/Tisdall story and pretty much left out the rest of the book (including Alan Grant).
Grant’s solving of the mystery of Clay’s death is a bit more routine, with an ending that seems to come too abruptly. The actress Marta Hallard, who figures in so many of the Grant mysteries, appears for the first time in this book, and is, as usual, Grant’s entree to the world of the theatre; it’s interesting to see her introduced with little fanfare, as if Tey did not yet realize that Marta would become Grant’s longtime (but platonic) friend.
Readers who love Tey’s later books will find this early installment in the Grant series an interesting step on the author’s path to greatness.