RogerBW's Blog

The Man in the Queue, Josephine Tey 09 July 2020

1929 detective fiction; first of Tey's novels of Inspector Alan Grant. There's a long queue for the last night of a hugely popular musical; as the doors open, a man falls to the ground, dead, with a dagger in his back.

Even in this early novel (Tey's first had come out three months earlier) her writing skill is very apparent; the text may get florid at times, but this kind of loving description of entirely mundane scenes is hard to do well, and Tey carries it off beautifully.

The people work too, suspects and policemen and others; Grant himself may lack the deliberate idiosyncrasies of a Poirot or an Alleyn but comes over as both a competent detective (with "flair") and one determined to see justice done – even when it appears that the case he's made, while safe in terms of trial, may be fatally flawed in the matter of correctly finding the murderer.

There's police-procedural work digging up early clues; there's a coincidental spotting and chase of the prime suspect; there are interviews with witnesses and landladies; there's a flight to Scotland, and some police work outside the London context where Grant is at home. This is all good stuff.

The problem, though, is that abar bs guvf fbyirf gur pnfr. Gur riraghny fbyhgvba eryvrf ragveryl ba gur zheqrere gheavat hc gb rkcynva gb gur cbyvpr jung gurl qvq, orpnhfr gurl qba'g jnag na vaabprag crefba unatrq. Vg'f pbafvfgrag jvgu gur rivqrapr, pregnvayl, ohg vg qbrfa'g sbyybj gur ehyrf bs qrgrpgvir fgbevrf: gur zheqrere vf whfg oneryl fbzrbar jr'ir zrg be orra gbyq nobhg, gurl'er abg nzbat gur fhfcrpgf, naq gurer'f onfvpnyyl ab jnl gurl'q unir orra pnhtug jvgubhg gur pbasrffvba. Juvpu znxrf gur fgbel nf n qrgrpgvir fgbel hafngvfslvat: gur grzcyngr bs gur tnzr vf gung rivqrapr vf cerfragrq, gur qrgrpgvir znxrf gurve qrqhpgvbaf, gur ernqre vf (vqrnyyl) fvtanyyrq gung abj vf gur gvzr gb znxr gurve qrpvfvba orsber gurl ghea gur cntr gb yrnea jurgure gurl jrer evtug… naq gung'f abg jung unccraf urer. Guvf vfa'g n pnfr gur ernqre pna fbyir.

Which is a great let-down from an otherwise superb book. I still like this (this was probably the third time I've read it), and the rest makes up for that problem, but with a bit more work it could have been this good and followed the rules.

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Series: Inspector Grant | Next in series: A Shilling for Candles

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