Too many “relationship” books lately which, unless they’re exquisitely written, sort of melt into one undistinguished clump. And not only books about relationships between humans, but one about a woman and a car (The Red Car), another about a woman and a horse (Mercury) … what could be next?
In the midst of all these throbbing hearts, Josephine Tey comes as a breath of fresh air. I found out about Tey, a Scottish-born mystery writer who died in 1952, from a group of book-loving women at a friend’s birthday party. “Oh my god You’re so lucky,” one said, when I told her I’d never read Tey. “You have so much to look forward to!” And indeed Tey was prolific. She wrote eight Inspector Alan Grant mysteries and three stand-alones, plus other novels, plays, and a biography of the 17th-century cavalry leader John Graham, 1st Viscount of Dundee.
My Tey baptismal book was To Love and Be Wise, the story of Leslie Searle, a handsome young American photographer who enters the life of an arts colony of sorts in a remote English village. It’s witty and intelligent and delightfully snobby.
Of a fairytale writer who “indulges in handcrafts” she writes, “No Plain surface was safe against Miss Easton-Dixon. She would take a jar of cold cream and reduce its functional simplicity of a nightmare of mock-Meissen.”
Silas Weekly, a wildly successful writer who “resents beauty” approves of a world
all steaming manure and slashing rain … His lecture tours in America were wild successes not so much because his earnest readers in Peoria and Paducah loved steaming manure but because … all the good ladies of Peoria and Paducah longed to take him home and feed him up and give him a brighter outlook on life.
What the young American wants from the artsy Brits and why and how he disappears is at the heart of this mystery. Tey throws out enough enticing false leads to deter us from the “who dunnit and why” and even thought the answer is a bit far-fetched, it doesn’t detract from the great fun here.
I’m looking forward to cold winter nights curled up with more delicious treats from Josephine Tey.