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Bookends: This story breaks some mystery rules January 16, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery.

Bookends: This story breaks some mystery rulesthe-man-in-the-queue

By Dan Davidson
January 12, 2016

– 827 words –


The Man in the Queue

By Josephine Tey

Kindle edition

99 cents

218 pages in print editions


As Alaskan mystery writer, Dana Stabenow, told one of the writers’ conferences in Skagway, one of the good things about e-books is that they help to keep books “in print”, so to speak. She related that the earlier novels in her Kate Shugak mystery series would be out of print if it weren’t for the fact that they were available, and still selling, in e-book form.

Much of Josephine Tey’s output has been out of print for some time, even though her penultimate Alan Grant mystery, The Daughter of Time, has been hailed in Britain as the greatest mystery novel of all time.

As it happens, Stabenow credits Tey’s book about the real truth behind the story that has Richard III murdering his nephews in order to take the throne, as being one of the things that inspired her to write mysteries. You can read her essay about this in the links from Wikipedia’s article on Tey.

The Man in the Queue was the first of the Grant mysteries, published in 1929. It does feel its years, but it wears them well. The oddest thing about the narrative has to be the occasional times when the omniscient narrator breaks what the theatre would call the fourth wall, and addresses the audience directly, using the first person “I” to comment on some aspect of her detective’s manner.

The other quite weird feature of the book is that Grant doesn’t actually solve the murder. The solution walks in off the street after several dead ends have been reached and takes everyone by surprise.

That sounds like a spoiler, I know, but for me it felt quite real. I could imagine such a weird series of events leading to this denouement.

It begins with a man in a London theatre line-up (the queue of the title) waiting to see what will be one of the final presentations of a musical, “Didn’t you Know?”. It’s a tight lineup and there’s some shoving. A woman turns to complaint to the fellow behind her, who’s bumped her several times, and he falls down with a knife in his back. He’s been dead for a while; the line has been both holding him up and moving him forward,

No one seems to have seen the thing happen. There are practically zero clues. Since it’s an impossible case, it gets handed to Alan Grant, who apparently already has a rep for tough cases, as well as one for being a generally sharp looking fellow.

Working on very little evidence, Grant manages to identify the dead man and track down where he lived. While this is happening a letter turns up at the station containing funds to deal with the man’s burial. Tracking down some other money does eventually lead to a suspect, and to a manhunt which runs through the streets of London and finally out into the countryside, where the final approach to the village is accomplished riding in a charabanc, a species of open mail car with benches for passengers. This is perhaps the most dated conveyance imaginable and it does remind you of the time period.

Grant captures his suspect and hauls him back to London, where he goes on trial. All the evidence that exists seems to point in his direction and yet Grant is stuck with the uncomfortable feeling that the fellow’s story was, in fact, the truth, and that the wrong man might be headed for the drop. He pursues the case in spite of the fact that his superiors are quite happy with the outcome as it stands. Though he showed himself to be quite capable when it came to identifying the dead man in the first place, and in both establishing and tracking down a probable suspect, he is unable to find an alternative answer that fits the facts.

Along the way he uncovers and solves a number tangentially related mysteries and becomes convinced that the dead man, who had a gun in his pocket, had actually come to the theatre to kill the lead actress, Ray Marcable (yes, it’s a stage name, and it is exactly that blatant a self-advertisement), which whom he was obsessed. It seems that whoever killed him saved her life, but that still doesn’t undo the sentence facing his captive.

So the arrival and confession of the actual killer comes as a bit of a relief, but I do admit that it breaks most of the rules of the standard agreement between mystery writer and mystery reader.

Never mind. I enjoyed the book anyway. My wife has gone on a Tey binge since discovering her a few months back and I have access to her KOBO account, so I’ll be reading some of the other books in the series.






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