RogerBW's Blog

A Shilling for Candles, Josephine Tey 06 October 2020

1936 detective fiction; second of Tey's novels of Inspector Alan Grant. A film star's body washes up on a beach in Kent; it might have been an accidental drowning, but for a small piece of evidence.

There's definite progress here. There aren't sudden outbursts of floridity; the writing is just generally solid rather than being saved for the good bits. On the other hand, there are still significant diversions that make the actual business of solving the case take second place to simply following Grant and others around and watching them work.

He considered the good-natured feckless face dispassionately. He had known at least one murderer who had had that type of good looks; blue-eyed, amiable, harmless; and he had buried his dismembered fiancée in an ash pit.

So there's the ne'er-do-well who, if he's guilty, really ought to have come up with a better story; and the chief constable's daughter who's sure he isn't guilty even when things start to point towards him, and sets out to prove it (and doesn't get automatically thrown into a romance with him); there's the brother who went off on his own path, and who's left the titular shilling for candles in the will; there's the husband who claims to have been in France but seems to have arrived in Dover a crucial few hours early; there's the smart set in London including the star's songwriter, and an astrologer who is now famous for having forecast the death… all of these things are great fun to read about. The problem is that by the nature of a detective story not all of them can be relevant, and while the proportion of red herring isn't as high as in The Man in the Queue I can't help feeling that the detective story is more of a skeleton on which to hang the stories of people than it is the main point of the book. Especially when it comes to Jammy Hopkins the reporter…

What did the Yard want to take it like that for? Everyone knew that what you wrote in a paper was just eyewash. When it wasn't bilgewater. If you stopped being dramatic over little tuppenny no-account things, people might begin to suspect that they were no-account, and then they'd stop buying papers. And where would the Press barons, and Jammy, and a lot of innocent shareholders be then? You'd got to provide emotions for all those moribund wage-earners who were too tired or too dumb to feel anything on their own behalf. If you couldn't freeze their blood, then you could sell them a good sob or two.

Not that I mind reading the stories of people when they're this good, but considering the book as a detective story this is a flaw in it.

On the other hand the actor-talk is surely inspired by Tey's experience working with them in London and as a contract writer in Hollywood, and comes off as real; and while Grant's own personality may remain something of a cipher there are other characters more fully developed.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

Previous in series: The Man in the Queue | Series: Inspector Grant | Next in series: To Love and Be Wise

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Search
Archive
Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life julie enfield kickstarter learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana mecha men with beards museum music mystery naval non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1