Alexander Inglis's Reviews > The Man in the Queue

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
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's review
Jan 15, 12

bookshelves: police-detective, golden-age-whodunit, police-procedural
Read from November 02 to 09, 2011

Numbering among the least prolific of the "golden age" mystery writers must be Josephine Tey whose first novel The Man in the Queue was published in 1929 and stars her London Police Inspector Alan Grant; of the remaining eight novels published in her lifetime, four more were centred around Grant. Born in Scotland, at age 30 she gave up her teaching career to return to Inverness to care for her invalid father. With time on her hands, her career as writer was born. Her 1932 play "Richard of Bordeaux" launched the career of John Gielgud; her last published novel, The Daughter of Time (1951) was selected by the UK Crime Writer's Association as "the greatest mystery novel of all time".

London's theatre goers are lined up for blocks for tickets to "Didn't You Know?", hoping for the opportunity to take in the final performances before its beloved star heads to America. No one expected a murder in the queue: yet a few people back from the front of the line, a man slumps over, dead: he's been stabbed. More remarkable still: there is no identification on the body and even the tailor's labels have been removed from his clothes. In his pocket: a loaded, unfired service revolver but the fingerprints on do not belong to the victim. No one, apparently, was a witness to the murder. Inspector Alan Grant takes on the case, unravelling facts and following hunches, as slowly he uncovers the man's identify and his killer. The trail leads across London, a neighbouring town and even the highlands of Scotland.

Deliciously written, with evocative descriptions of people and places, this is an early police procedural at time before DNA forensics, the Internet and cell phones: set in the late 1920s it was also the era before the Great Depression, though post-WWI; class and cultural attitudes are occasionally jarringly different than today. There's a keen sense of inevitability to the unravelling which pulls the reader along as more and more clues fall into place. The book is about the journey, more than the destination, and in that it has lots in common with Agatha Christie. Happily, Josephine Tey's work is public domain in Canada and an excellent edition of this title is available as an ePub at MobileRead.

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