Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Josephine Tey

Josephine Tey

Over the past week or so, I’ve been reacquainting myself with the mystery novels of Josephine Tey, or the few that I have on my bookshelves.

The Franchise Affair was the one I selected first of all. I was so impressed with it I have continued to devour the rest – Brat Farrar, The Singing Sands, and currently the famous The Daughter of Time. I even went out at lunchtime today on the hunt for more, but alas the second-hand (Crime Fiction!) bookstore had none of them.

Oh how I miss the recently closed – the best second-hand bookshop in town - City Basement Books, which surely would have yielded better results!

So it looks like ABE or some such is the go if I wish to acquire more.

To cut to the chase, Josephine Tey was one of the pen names of Elizabeth MacKintosh, a Scottish born playwright and author of detective novels. Originally destined for art school, she only took to writing after undergoing three years training in physical education. In all, she wrote eight mystery novels. She wrote many plays under the name of Gordon Daviot.

The website for the Richard III society has an interesting biography of her which I recommend visiting. Reading it, I was pleased to note that she was a fan of horse racing, which I strongly suspected from The Franchise Affair, where one of the characters gives a racing tip to another, based on the pedigree of the tipped horse.

Anyway, the books…


Of the three I have so far reread it is remarkable that they are all very different and not written to a formula. The Franchise Affair, based on the famous historical case of Elizabeth Canning, deals with false accusation, wherein two women, mother and daughter are accused by the innocent seeming schoolgirl Beth Kane of keeping her prisoner in their house The Franchise. They call upon the services of country solicitor Robert Blair to act for them in the matter. A wise choice, as he is convinced that they are innocent from the outset, despite the girl being able to furnish remarkably accurate details of the interior of the house.

The story follows his steps to clear the names of the Sharpe women as he undertakes an amateur detective investigation into Beth Kane’s activities over the month she is purported to have been a prisoner.

False identity is the concern of the novel Brat Farrar, wherein the title character passes himself off as the missing heir, presumed dead by suicide, Patrick Ashby, in order to inherit the fortune of the Ashby family. In doing so, he comes to realise there is a darker mystery at the heart of the identity he has taken on that he is morally obliged by conscience to solve.

A death on a train and a mysterious verse scribbled on a newspaper is the premise for The Singing Sands and features Tey’s detective hero, Alan Grant of Scotland Yard. Alan Grant appears in several of Tey’s detective novels, including The Daughter of Time.

The latter novel finds Grant laid up in hospital with a crook back and a broken leg and bored out of his mind. His friend, the actress Marta Hallard, knowing of Grant’s acuity and interest in facial characteristics, brings him a collection of portraits to occupy his mind.

He is struck by the countenance of Richard III, seeing not the callous murderer of the Princes in the Tower, but a sensitive human being. This sets him on a course of historical detective work which is carried out, with the help of friends, whilst he is convalescing in hospital.

Containing an unusual plot, it is memorable for contributing to historical research and goes some way to clearing the name of the much maligned Richard III.

What distinguishes all the above novels by Josephine Tey, is the elegance and wit of her prose and her ability to create real characters that quickly win the sympathy of the reader. As it is many years since I last read the books, I have been highly impressed by those that I’ve recently reread. Despite being written 50 to 60 years ago, Tey’s books have a freshness and compulsively readable quality that is hard to find these days. Highly recommended!.

The cover illustrations above are scans of my elderly copies of the books. I’m particularly pleased to have The Daughter of Time in a 1964 Green Penguin Crime edition, still in good nick I might add.


Ann ODyne said...

I think she was an excellent writer too. The Daughter Of Time was the first I read, and it was in the 1960's. Since then I have found and read her others.
I don't understand why people bother with tripe novels when there are writers like this who do not insult the readers intelligence.
You may also like Dorothy M Sayers novels, same generation, very feminist attitude amazingly.
Melbourne writer Kerry Greenwood has a wonderful character Phrynne Fisher who is very like Harriet Vane of the Sayers books - a daring feisty intelligent and highly stylish woman.
There are plenty of us of course.
Read ON my dear. X X X

Anne S said...

I haven't read Dorothy Sayers for years, though I do notice that I have several of her books on my shelves.

I'd also recommend Michael Innes who wrote witty and often very funny detective novels with fiendish plots. I binged on him a couple of years ago.

These old writers are a joy to rediscover.