Jenn's Reviews > The Man in the Queue

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
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's review
Mar 27, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, mystery, novel, read-2011
Read from March 27 to April 01, 2011

Here's the basic summary: A nameless man is found stabbed to death in the queue before a popular London play. Though surrounded by people, no one manages to see the murder -- carried out with a small, sharp dagger, slipped almost expertly into the man's back at an angle guaranteed to kill -- and no one comes to claim the man's body. Through dogged investigation, Scotland Yard's Inspector Grant must figure out who the man in the queue is, what he was doing there, and why someone would want to kill him.

This is a search done well before Google, well before fingerprint databases, well before the tricks of NCIS and CSI. Grant pages through fingerprint cards to try -- unsuccessfully -- to identify his victim. He has to send a man to every department store that sells the type of tie he was wearing, hoping to identify its purchaser. The biggest break they get in the case is that the man's face is familiar to one of the usual suspects -- in short, the case breaks from a bit of luck and a lot of hard, shoe-leather work. This is actually more fun to read about than people tapping on gadgets, running computer searches for priors, and the like. It makes the human element loom much larger, and Grant is an interesting human to have at the center of the case.

Once upon a time, Elizabeth Mackintosh published her very first mystery story, in 1929, using the name "Gordon Daviot." This name was later replaced by her other, more famous pseudonym, Josephine Tey, which is the name that drew me to that first book in question, The Man in the Queue. I've read the famous The Daughter of Time, which stars the same inspector seen here, Grant, and I've read and enjoyed The Franchise Affair,, where Grant only makes brief appearances. What sets this book apart from those is its steadfast use of and affection for London. The Grant who appears in The Daughter of Time is an older Grant, holed up in a hospital room, unable to prowl around or investigate on his own -- it's a mystery as much inside his head as in any active location. The Franchise Affair takes place in the country and is mostly investigated by a country lawyer.

This book, however, lives and thrives within London and its surroundings. Certainly, Grant does venture to the country for a weekend -- on the job -- during the case, but mostly, we're in and around his usual haunts. It's a standard way to set up a series -- but it's also more daring than most mysteries of today. The case looks to be just another puzzle for up-and-comer Allan Grant, who's known to have good hunches at Scotland Yard. Yet his hunch in this case -- he eventually blames and pursues a close friend of the dead man's -- ends up being completely wrong. Unlike the more modern cases, where I feel writers let their detectives have the wrong man or woman arrested all the time, Grant's mistake has consequences -- for his own confidence and for the confidence of his superiors in him. There are consequences for mistakes. What a novel concept in the realm of the all-seeing-detective mystery!

The charm of this mystery is as much its time as its story -- and it packs a wallop of charm.
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