The Man in the Queue #1929club

Twice a year, Karen and Simon  host an online book club where they choose a year and everyone comes together to review and discuss books published in that year. I only discovered it a year ago but I love the way that it gives you a focus for discovering books that you have never previously heard of as well as rediscovering old favourites. This week is dedicated to 1929 and what a year it was for publishing, especially for detective fiction.

One of my favourite historical crime series at the moment is the series written by Nicola Upson featuring the novelist and playwright Josephine Tey. Josephine Tey is best known for her novel A Daughter of Time but she wrote many other novels including one that was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock. Nicola Upson takes the known facts about Josephine’s life and weaves a whole backstory into them where she not only writes about crime but also helps to solve them. The books are brilliant and well worth reading if you haven’t discovered them yet.

One of the novels takes place when Josephine Tey is writing The Man in the Queue and when I discovered that this book which introduces Inspector Grant was written in 1929, it was an obvious choice for me to read this week.

The Man in the Queue is about exactly what it says in the title. There is a queue outside a theatre in London for a popular show and a man is stabbed to death. There are no clues to his identity and nobody in the queue remembers seeing anything happening.

Inspector Grant is called in to try and solve the mystery and finds that it takes all of his intelligence to get to the bottom of who the victim is and why he was murdered. He is a really likeable character, thoughtful and charismatic. He also gets on well with all of his colleagues including his superior which is often not the case in modern police procedural novels. He has a strong sense of justice and is reluctant to leave the case alone even when it appears that he has solved it and the murderer is safely under lock and key.

The secondary characters are also memorable. The depiction of the actress Ray Marcable is brilliant. At first, she appears to be as good hearted as she is beautiful but then Inspector Grant and the reader begin to see that she is actually hard and will happily destroy the careers of her leading men to keep herself in the spotlight.

I really enjoyed the way the mystery unfolded as pieces gradually start to fit together. However, this isn’t a story where the reader can put all of the clues together and solve the crime along with the hero. There are clues as to who the murderer is but the actual resolution does come as a surprise. In a way, this was the weakest part of the novel, not because it was unexpected but because it just felt a bit rushed after the way the story had previously developed.

I love novels that have a strong sense of place and this is one of the strengths of this story. The settings of London, the beach on the south coast and the highlands of Scotland are all vividly portrayed and I had no trouble in visualising the scenes that she described.

One thing that really jarred for me was the casual use of racist language that was prevalent at the time. The prime suspect was frequently referred to as a ‘dago’ as he was of Italian appearance. Apparently in other editions, this has been changed to a less offensive term.

Overall, I did love the book. Mainly the writing was excellent and it was a satisfying mystery. I definitely need to track down the other novels that she wrote featuring Alan Grant.

This is post 27 for Blogtober 2022


The 1929 club – Beauvallet

Twice a year, Karen and Simon  host an online book club where they choose a year and everyone comes together to review and discuss books published in that year. Today kicks off the start of the week dedicated to 1929 and what a year it was for publishing, especially for detective fiction.

I was surprised by how many books I have already read that were originally published in 1929. These include:

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
The Seven Dials Mystery by Agatha Christie
Goodbye to all that by Robert Graves
Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner
Grand Hotel by Vicky Baum

It’s a really busy time of year at the moment and so I decided to start the week off quite gently with a reread from a favourite author.

Georgette Heyer is most famous for her romances set in the Regency period but she did write a couple of more historical novels, one of which is Beauvallet. This is set in Tudor times when Sir Francis Drake had just sailed around the world and the Spanish and English navies were spoiling for a fight. As in her Regency romances, Georgette Heyer introduces real figures into her stories and so we meet Queen Elizabeth 1 and King Philip of Spain as well as Sir Francis Drake and other members of the Tudor court.

Nicholas Beauvallet is a classic swashbuckling hero who always has a joke when he is in danger and is irresistible to women. We first meet him at sea as he boards a Spanish ship to carry off its treasure. On board the ship are his excellency Don Manuel and his daughter, Dona Domenica who are returning to Spain from the Americas. Of course, the result of the battle is never in doubt and neither is the romance. But then, the beauty of a well written romance is the journey that the two parties undertake before they can ride off into the happily ever after.

Beauvallet is a true gentleman and returns Don Manuel and Dona Domenica to Spain but he promises that he will come for her before the year is out. He keeps his promise and comes to Spain in disguise, travelling right to the heart of the Spanish court and meeting King Philip while masquerading as a French nobleman.

Domenica is now living with her aunt after the death of her father and is in danger of being forcibly married off to her cousin as the family want her inheritance for themselves. There are some lovely scenes equal to any in Heyer’s romances where Beauvallet pretending to be the Chevalier de Guise becomes the darling of Spanish society. Domenica’s aunt, Dona Beatrice is a worthy opponent for Beauvallet as she is determined that Domenica will marry her son even if he has to kidnap her to achieve this.

This doesn’t quite have the sparkle of some of her best romances such as The Grand Sophy and sometimes the dialogue becomes a bit stilted as Heyer is possibly less comfortable with Tudor phrasing. Domenica too, doesn’t have the depth of some of her later heroines. However, it is still a gorgeous bit of escapism and there are thrills galore in the last third of the book.

If you love Georgette Heyer and haven’t read this one, then it is definitely worth picking up.

This is post 24 for Blogtober 2022