Archive for the Josephine Tey Category

Golden Age Mysteries: My Favorites

Posted in Classic Mystery Reviews, Dorothy L. Sayers, Golden Age Mysteries, History of Mystery, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, Mysteries, Ngaio Marsh with tags , , on May 13, 2016 by cshmurak

The Golden Age of Mystery is usually defined as the period between World War I and World War II, or roughly 1920-1940; some people would extend it into the early 1950s. As for me, I like to think of the Golden Age as beginning with Trent’s Last Case in 1913, interrupted by WWI, and then continuing into the early 1950s (so I can include the best of Josephine Tey, who’s clearly a Golden Age author). Below I list my favorites –  a subjective list, of course. The order is somewhat random, I confess, but I think the first three are truly my top three.

  1. 99661574Trent’s Last Case (1913) by E.C. Bentley – The book that introduced a detective who’s fallible and human, at a time when most mystery authors were creating omniscient Sherlock Holmes clones. Read my review of it here. So many Golden Age authors (Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie among others) admired this book as one of the outstanding pieces of detective fiction of all time, and Sayers even copied an important plot point for her first mystery, Whose Body.

  2. strong poisonStrong Poison (1934) by Dorothy L. Sayers – The beginning of the Lord Peter/Harriet Vane romance as well as a well-plotted and humorous mystery. Though others may prefer Gaudy Night or The Nine Tailors – both of which I’ve enjoyed – I find them too weighed down by feminist rhetoric or showy scholarship (into bell-ringing!). You can find my review of Strong Poison here.
  3. bewiseTo Love and Be Wise (1950) by Josephine Tey – It’s so difficult to choose just one of Tey’s books, but this is a sentimental favorite. I love Brat Farrar too, and many people would say it was her best book, but I just can’t choose a book without Alan Grant! And as for The Daughter of Time, I find it brilliant on some days and tedious on others. Reviews of all three: TL&BW, BF, DoT
  4. longdivorceThe Long Divorce (1951) by Edmund Crispin – Many people would choose The Moving Toyshop as Crispin’s best book, but I’ve never liked it that much; maybe the over-the-top finale is just too much for me. For complete hilarity, I’d go with Crispin’s Buried for Pleasure instead. Long Divorce, on the other hand, while still quite humorous, puts the emphasis on the mystery, as Crispin’s Oxford don detective, Gervase Fen, travelling incognito as “Mr. Datchery,” solves a case involving poison pen letters and murder. People who enjoy humor that is eccentric and scholarly (though never pompous) will enjoy this one.
  5. 51mru5rxXfL._SX367_BO1,204,203,200_Flowers for the Judge (1936) by Margery Allingham – Allingham wrote so many novels about Albert Campion (and she kept on writing them through the mid-1960s) that it’s difficult to choose. I really like Sweet Danger, in which Albert meets Amanda Fitton for the first time, and Dancers in Mourning (which I review here). But Flowers for the Judge is especially entertaining, both for its look at the world of publishing and for the amazing disappearance in broad daylight of one of the members of the publishing house.
  6. MarshConstables_Clutch of Constables (1968) by Ngaio Marsh – Like Allingham, Marsh is another of the great British writers who continued to write Golden Age mysteries long after the period was over (until 1982, in fact). I might have chosen Artists in Crime (1938) instead, the book in which Roderick Alleyn meets Agatha Troy –  notice a certain romantic theme in my favorites (see Strong Poison and Sweet Danger mentioned above) – or Death of a Peer (1940) (reviewed here) for its exuberant silliness – another theme in my favorites (see Buried for Pleasure above and Appleby’s End below). But I truly love this one that features Troy in the leading role. Here’s my review.
  7. farewellThe Long Farewell (1958) by Michael Innes – Like Marsh, Michael Innes wrote Golden Age mysteries from the 1930s to the 1980s. Some of them are very funny (like Appleby’s End with its bizarre train ride); others – chiefly those written in the 1940s –  are more like spy novels, and some are pure mysteries. The Long Farewell is in the last category and shows Oxford scholar Innes at his best, as his detective Sir John Appleby investigates the suicide (or was it murder?) of a bigamous Shakespearean scholar. In addition to his Appleby novels, Innes wrote a series of books about Charles Honeybath – most of which I don’t like – and a few non-series books that are very good, particularly A Change of Heir and Christmas at Candleshoe. (The Disney studio bought the title, Candleshoe, and then threw away the book, so the film and the book have nothing much in common.)
  8. Trial&ErrorTrial and Error (1937) by Anthony Berkeley – Berkeley wrote a series of good mysteries in the 1920s and 1930s featuring the writer/sleuth Roger Sheringham. In 1929 he created a character named Ambrose Chitterwick (“a mild little man of no particular appearance”) and placed him in a Sheringham book, The Poisoned Chocolates Case.  An unlikely detective, Chitterwick appeared in two more of Berkeley’s novels, The Piccadilly Murder (1929) and Trial and Error (1937). For me, it’s really a toss-up between Poisoned Chocolates and Trial and Error. But I’m choosing Trial and Error for the uniqueness of the plot, wherein a murderer tries to prove he committed the murder so an innocent man won’t be convicted of the crime. Berkeley also wrote under various pseudonyms; as Francis Iles, he was the creator of the creepy Before the Fact, the basis of the Hitchcock film, Suspicion.
  9.  AdrianThe List of Adrian Messenger (1959) by Philip MacDonald – Starting with The Rasp (1924), MacDonald wrote a series of mysteries in the 1920s and 1930s about detective Anthony Gethryn, then brought him back for one last bow in this book, a finalist for the 1960 Edgar Award.  Adrian Messenger gives a list of ten men’s names to a friend at Scotland Yard; then the plane carrying Messenger is blown up, and Gethryn must investigate each of the ten men to find if any of them is still alive and which one is the murderer. This was made into a film of the same name in 1963, starring George C. Scott as Gethryn, and featuring people like Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Robert Mitchum in fairly obvious disguises. The movie is fun, though not nearly as clever as the book.
  10. HouseoftheArrowThe House of the Arrow (1924) by A.E.W. Mason – Mason is most often remembered – if he’s remembered at all – as the author of The Four Feathers, a wonderful adventure story. But he also wrote a series of five detective novels featuring Inspector Hanaud, an eccentric French detective who may have been a precursor of Hercule Poirot. The House of the Arrow may be Mason’s best, though At the Villa Rose, written in 1910, is a close second. In Arrow, Hanaud must help a young heiress prove that she hasn’t murdered the woman who left her all her fortune. Publisher and critic Bennett Cerf said of this book: “Its startling but thoroughly logical conclusion, which took me completely by surprise, still impresses me as the cleverest piece of literary sleight-of-hand I have ever read in a detective story.” There have been three British film versions of this novel (1930, 1940, 1953), none of which I’ve ever seen, but I think I’m going to try to track them down!

All of these books are available online, many as e-books as well as paperbacks, and a few others have been recently reprinted by wonderful publishers like Felony & Mayhem or Stratus. Here are links to their pages on Amazon:

Trent’s Last Case

Strong Poison

To Love and Be Wise

Brat Farrar

The Long Divorce

Buried for Pleasure

Flowers for the Judge

Sweet Danger

Dancers in Mourning

Artists in Crime

Clutch of Constables

Death of a Peer

The Long Farewell

Appleby’s End

Poisoned Chocolates Case

Trial and Error

List of Adrian Messenger

House of the Arrow

At the Villa Rose

Note: If you make a purchase using one of these links, I receive no payment; however, at no cost to you, my daughter’s green living blog, HealthyGreenSavvy.com, will receive a small commission.
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Miss Pym Disposes (1948) – Josephine Tey

Posted in Classic Mystery Reviews, Golden Age Mysteries, Josephine Tey, Mysteries with tags , , on July 11, 2010 by cshmurak

Josephine Tey (whose real name was Elizabeth MacKintosh) was a recluse, and little is known about her private life. What she did during World War II is unknown. What we do know is that immediately after the war, she published six amazing mystery novels. Miss Pym Disposes was the first of these.


Is Miss Pym Disposes really a mystery novel? No body appears for over 200 pages. Miss Pym herself is hardly a detective. It is much more a novel of character, with an ending that examines how a crime may affect the lives of some of the people involved.


Lucy Pym starts out as a comic character. A teacher of French, she inherits some money, which allows her to quit her job. She then reads a book on psychology, which she finds ridiculous, and goes on to read thirty-six more that she finds equally silly. At last she writes her own psychology book and becomes a celebrity, the darling of the British publishing world, and a speaker to learned societies. Invited by an old school friend to give a guest lecture at a school of athletic training for young women, Lucy becomes enchanted with the school and especially with its enthusiastic students and ends up staying much longer than she had planned.


Tey herself had attended such a school and she knew the milieu well. She also had the amazing ability to make almost all the characters at the school both realistic and likable: the irrepressible Dakers, the beautiful and popular Nash, the brilliant Innes, and the somewhat cynical Brazilian student Desterro are the standouts. Desterro, known to her classmates as The Nut Tart, serves an important function both to the novel and to Miss Pym; as an outsider who nonetheless lives inside the school, she provides a more objective view of her classmates and the school itself.


The title of the book comes from the quotation, “Man proposes, God disposes.” There is much discussion in the last 50 pages of “playing God,” and indeed, Miss Pym, after much soul-searching, does take actions that are outside the rules of the school and outside the law.


The ending of the book has a devastating surprise for the first-time reader. But even more interesting to me, as a person who has read the book many times, is that there are multiple possible interpretations of what happened. I’d discussed this book before with one book group, and we had all come to the same conclusion about who did what and why. This time, with another book group, one person in the group (who happens to be my husband) came up with an alternate explanation. Try as we might, none of us could find anything in the book that could contradict that interpretation. A wonderful discussion resulted — about psychology, morality, and writing. That this entertaining little book written over 60 years ago could provoke such a discussion is a tribute to the skill of the author.

Here’s a link to Amazon if you want to buy the book: Miss Pym Disposes

Note: If you make a purchase using this link, I receive no payment; however, at no cost to you, my daughter’s green living blog, HealthyGreenSavvy.com, will receive a small commission.

Brat Farrar (1949) – Josephine Tey

Posted in Classic Mystery Reviews, Golden Age Mysteries, Josephine Tey, Mysteries with tags , , , on March 24, 2009 by cshmurak

bratBrat Farrar is one of the two mysteries by Josephine Tey that does not feature detective Alan Grant. Written in 1949, it was among the post-war novels — the other two being Daughter of Time and The Franchise Affair — that helped cement Tey’s reputation as one of the best of the Golden Age mystery writers.

Tey first introduces us to the Ashby family having a lively lunch in their home, Latchetts, which has been in the family for generations. The eldest, Simon, is soon to be “of age” and inherit Latchetts, and he is joined at the table by Aunt Bee (who has raised the children since their parents died in a plane crash eight years earlier) and his siblings, Eleanor, who teaches horseback riding to children at a nearby school, and the young twins, Ruth and Jane. The scene is a warm, happy one and draws the reader into the book.

But then we meet the orphan Brat Farrar, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Simon. Brat is persuaded by a “friend” of the Ashbys to pose as the long-lost Patrick Ashby, Simon’s twin, who disappeared shortly after his parents’ death and whose body has never been found. Brat quickly insinuates himself into the family, explaining that rather than killing himself, as everyone assumed, he ran away to sea and lived in America until recently. As the older twin, Brat/Patrick will inherit Latchetts, not Simon. One by one, he wins over the Ashby family, leaving only Simon believing he is a fraud.

Tey is such a talented writer that she makes it difficult for the reader to dislike Brat despite his dishonesty. By the time he begins to suspect that Patrick was a victim of murder and not a suicide, we find ourselves firmly on his side. Brat’s dilemma is that by proving that Patrick was murdered, he will expose his own crime and bring further sorrow to the family he has come to love.

Brat Farrar has typical Tey touches: a humorous spoof of overly permissive schools like Summerhill and an exciting horserace, as well as some of her most appealing characters in Aunt Bee and Brat himself. It’s a masterful book from start to finish.

Here’s a link to Amazon if you want to buy the book:  Brat Farrar

Note: If you make a purchase using this link, I receive no payment; however, at no cost to you, my daughter’s green living blog, HealthyGreenSavvy.com, will receive a small commission.

A Shilling for Candles (1936) – Josephine Tey

Posted in Classic Mystery Reviews, Josephine Tey, Mysteries with tags , , on November 20, 2008 by cshmurak

shillingA 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.

To Love and Be Wise (1950) – Josephine Tey

Posted in Classic Mystery Reviews, Josephine Tey, Mysteries with tags , , on August 16, 2008 by cshmurak

There are some mysteries that are actually more enjoyable upon rereading. To Love and Be Wise is one of those books. Once the reader knows the solution to the mystery, it’s a treat to go back and look for the clues that Tey provides. They’re all there, seeming to call out to the reader, “If only you had paid attention, it would have been so easy!”

Tey’s detective, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, is called in find out what has become of a young American photographer, Leslie Searle, who disappeared while on a boat trip with a British radio commentator, Walter Whitmore. Has Whitmore killed Searle and disposed of his body in the river? Or did Searle simply walk away one night, leaving Whitmore behind to be blamed for his death? All that Grant knows for sure is that they were seen quarreling and that Searle has spent a lot of time recently with Whitmore’s fiancée. Perhaps someone else has killed the enigmatic American? There are certainly many possible suspects in the little artist colony of Salcott St. Mary.

One of the joys of most of Tey’s writing is her sense of humor — not the laugh-out-loud kind, but rather the gentle wit that makes the reader chuckle with recognition. Her description of Salcott St. Mary’s evolution from sleepy little village to “occupied territory” as the writers and actors from London moved in, for example, reminded me of the fate of several Connecticut towns I know. And when the very successful author Lavinia Fitch, dictating her umpteenth romance novel, discovers that she has had her heroine wear high heels to play tennis, I recalled some of the authorial blunders I’ve seen in books, and even some I’ve made myself. Lavinia’s reaction to her own heroine (“Who cares what the silly moron does!”) is perfect.

This book was published the year before The Daughter of Time and includes some of the same characters; both Grant’s sidekick Williams and the glamorous Marta Hallard make important contributions to the solution of the mystery. Daughter of Time fans will also be amused to see that the authors whose books sit unread on Grant’s bedside table in Daughter of Time appear as characters in To Love and Be Wise.

The wonderful twist at the end of the story is just one more reason to treasure this book. One of the members of my mystery readers group called To Love and Be Wise “elegant.” It is: there is elegance in its construction and elegance in the writing.

The Daughter of Time (1951) – Josephine Tey

Posted in Classic Mystery Reviews, Josephine Tey, Mysteries with tags , , on June 29, 2008 by cshmurak

Josephine Tey, along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh, was one of the grandes dames of the Golden Age of British Mystery. The Daughter of Time is considered her greatest masterpiece by some critics, while others have deemed it highly overrated.

Written in 1951, this is the fifth book that Tey wrote about Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Alan Grant. No ordinary policeman, Grant is the darling of maitre d’s and sophisticated theatre people. In the hospital with a broken leg, he grows bored with reading and staring at the ceiling, until actress and friend, Marta Hallard, brings him a pile of portraits with which to amuse himself. Grant, who is an expert at reading faces, becomes obsessed with one portrait, which turns out to be that of Richard the Third, the villain of the Shakespeare play, supposedly responsible for the murder of his two nephews. Grant is sure that the face cannot belong to a man capable of such evil, and, with an American graduate student to do his legwork, he sets out to find who really murdered the two young princes five hundred years earlier.

There is a great deal of conversation, most of it witty, and an almost total lack of action in this book. For the contemporary American reader, there is also the daunting challenge of following the events of the War of the Roses that Tey assumed her British readers would have learned in school; keeping all the Edwards and Henrys straight is no easy task, despite the family trees included in the book.

Many question the accuracy of Tey’s history, but members of the Richard the Third Society, with chapters in both Great Britain and the United States, applaud her work in redeeming Richard’s good name. The Daughter of Time has so much charm, with its perceptive observations of the tedium of hospital life and its vivid (and funny) characterizations of even the most minor characters, that it hardly matters to the reader whether the book is historically accurate. My experience with mystery groups is that readers either love this book or find it unbearably tedious. (And while people say they enjoy Christie and Sayers, “love” is the word that I hear most often about Tey.) I count myself among those who love it.