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