Friday, February 23, 2018

BACK TO THE CLASSICS 2018: The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

My second completed book for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate is The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey.  It fills the category of “Classic Crime Story”. The book was published in 1929 and was Tey’s first book as well as the first Inspector Grant Mystery.

The mystery/crime is established in the first chapter when a man who had been waiting in a crowded line of people, all pressing and pushing to get their SRO tickets for London’s hottest musical is found stabbed to death.  The other theatergoers of course saw nothing as they were paying more attention to  getting to the front of the line than they were about the people around them. The case is then handed over to Scotland Yard’s rising talent, Inspector Alan Grant.  The man had no identification on him so Inspector Grant has not only to find out who killed him but also who the victim was. 

I quite enjoyed the procedural aspects detection in this book: tracking down tie manufacturers, tracing bank notes and so on.  I equally liked the undercover aspects of the story as Grant sends his sergeants disguised as peddlers or down-on-their-luck soldiers to gather information from gossipy maids and he himself travels to the Scottish highlands posing as a casual angler, but of course he is casting for more than just fish!  I also think that Tey really does excel in her characterization. The supporting cast in this book is really well drawn, in particular Miss Diamont and Mrs. Everett in my opinion. I think either of them could have walked off the pages and on to their own novels!  I think it is a pity that Tey didn’t write many non-genre novels, though she died fairly young (in her early 50s), so who knows what she would have accomplished had she had more time?   

Where the book is weakest, is in its plotting.  And while, as I stated above, there is a lot of interesting detective work in following up clues,  Tey breaks one of the “rules” of detective fiction in allowing her main detective to be ruled by intuition over facts sometimes.  That said, I enjoyed some of the red herrings in the story anyway!

Just as a caveat, as is often with books of this era, there is a fair amount of casual sexism and racism contained within the pages.  Also,  The Man in the Queue  isn’t going to knock The Daughter of Time off its top spot as my favorite of Tey’s books, but I did find it a satisfying read. 

Friday, February 16, 2018


March Mystery Madness is actually a booktube initiative started three years ago by the book tubers LizziefayeLovesBooks  and Troi Towel.   There is also a goodreads group dedicated to the madness: Mystery Madness Group .

To get the ball rolling, the hosts have listed 6 prompts which I have listed below with my possible choices.  I thought it would be nice to read along, even though I don't vlog.  My hope is that reading mysteries in March will be a fun antidote to some of the "heavy lifting" I have done by reading the Tournament of Books Shortlist in January and February. Plus, I really need any inspiration to read what I own before I go and acquire or borrow more.

I think my main challenge (beside from reading only from my shelves - with one exception) will be to make sure the books within the genre are all different enough so I don't get confused. So here goes:

Read a mystery from your shelf/tbr
In a Strange City by Laura Lipmann – this would appear to have a Poe connection, which might make it doubly interesting?

Read a book borrowed from a friend or the library
This will be the only book I read that I don’t own.  I am waffeling between The Dry by Jane Harper or The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor.

A new release or an author’s debut or an author new to you
I’m going for the “new to me” part.  I have two novels by the Australian author Peter Temple that I got years ago and haven’t cracked yet!  

A mystery set at least 50 years in the past
This is easy, I would love to get to the next Flavia de Luce Mystery on my shelf, which is Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed by Alan Bradley. A book I bought *ahem* two years ago?

Read a translated mystery
I have a copy of The Laughing Policeman, a classic Scandi-noir novel by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö on tap.

Read a mystery thriller you would normally shy away from
I am going to have to bend the rules a tad and pick Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George not because I would normally shy away from her but because I am considering stopping reading her books all together.    After the last couple of books, I think we might need to break up but I do want to give her one last chance!

Have any of you read any of these titles?  Love 'em? Hate 'em? Do you have any recommendations for optional mystery novels? 

Monday, February 5, 2018

BACK TO THE CLASSICS 2018: Orient Express by Graham Greene

The first book I have completed for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge is Orient Express by Graham Green which was published in 1933. This title fits the category “A Classic Travel or Journey Narrative, Fiction or Non-Fiction”. 

Despite its title, this book is not a mystery a la Agatha Christie. Nor is it not a sexy spy thriller a la Ian Fleming, which the above cover of the Batam paperback that I read seems to suggest.  

Instead, the novel is really quintessential Greene, or maybe prototypical Greene based on the other novels of his that I have read. In my experience, Greene used his novels to ponder deeper moral questions about right and wrong, all the while with the understanding that humans are flawed. 

In Orient Express, the story begins in Ostend, Belgium and the reader is introduced to a few of the characters as they board the train which will travel through Cologne, Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade on the way to its ultimate destination of Istanbul, Turkey.  

Principal among the passengers are Carol Musker, a chorus girl and Carleton Myatt, a young, Jewish business man, both of whom are going to Turkey for work purposes and Richard John, a schoolteacher who is traveling under a British passport but who is clearly not English.  Richard John's true identity is recognized at the platform in Cologne by Mabel Warren, a journalist, who is seeing off her lover Janet Pardoe. Mabel then jumps on the train for what she thinks will be the scoop that will make her career.  Finally, in Vienna, a criminal boards the train to escape arrest.  Mix and stir, the characters will intersect and miss each other as the train rumbles further eastward. 

I found the dialogue a bit dated and stilted at times, which is to be expected I guess. Also there is some quite virulent anti-Semitism expressed by some characters that I believe the reader is supposed to understand as wrong, but also the author utilized quite a few stereotypical prejudices about Jews which I doubt he considered harmful. However, for this modern reader, it was pretty jarring to read. I enjoyed Orient Express for what it was, but if you are only going to read one of Greene’s novels, I would recommend The Quiet American or The Heart of the Matter over this one.