Josephine Tey, the pen name of Scottish writer Elizabeth MacKintosh, was the name under which she wrote some of her best-known works.
It’s also the name I knew her under when I first read her short stories in the amazing anthology series Bodies From The Library.
After my brief introduction, I was intrigued by the author’s characters and dedication to creating gripping narratives, so I sought out some more of her work.
Characterisation and suspense are the cornerstones of Tey’s work, and she created some memorable individuals including Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant, who appears in several of her most revered works.
If you’re looking for a new Golden Age crime fiction series to start in 2022, and want something authentic but not as popular as the books written by well-known names like Sayers or Christie, then Tey’s books could be the perfect choice for you.
Here are some of my favourite books by Josephine Tey to get you into her work and introduce you to her unique and well-rounded characters.
5. The Franchise Affair: An inventive and gripping novel, this unique story showcases the author’s flair for the dramatic and skill at characterisation. While the book involves Inspector Alan Grant, The Franchise Affair mainly centres around a solicitor who is called in to defend a mother and daughter who live alone in a grandiose house, called the Franchise. The pair have been accused of kidnapping a young woman, 15 year old Betty Kane, who was staying with an aunt and uncle nearby their home. She claims to have been abducted, beaten and forced to do menial work by the mother and daughter, who had been struggling to find servants to support them in taking care of their large home. While the tale seems fanciful and unusual, the girl is bruised and can describe accurately the layout of the pair’s distinctive home. The women’s solicitor, Robert Blair, is unconvinced by the girl and determined to help his clients, for whom he feels deeply sympathetic. His investigations uncover unique human dramas and incorporate so many twists that the novel is almost impossible to put down.
4. Brat Farrar: Set in a stuffy country estate, Brat Farrar is both the title of the book and the name of a mysterious stranger who intrudes on the ignorant bliss of the troubled and cash-strapped Ashby family. Brat meets a stranger while drifting around in England after spending time in America. The stranger is an actor who knows the Ashby family, and wants to use Brat to impersonate the eldest son of the family, who is supposed to have committed suicide, but whose body was never found. His younger twin is now set to inherit a trust fund from his late mother when he turns 21, but Brat and his new friend plan to swindle the family out of the money with their deception. While this book is less of a mystery and more of a thriller and human drama, it is definitely worth reading for its unforgettable characterisation and intense dialogue. The book is a stand alone novel that doesn’t involve Inspector Grant, but it is very clearly the work of Josephine Tey. It’s also a great introduction to her work and a stunning read for anyone who loves unique thrillers.
3. A Shilling for Candles: The basis for the Alfred Hitchcock film Young And Innocent, A Shilling For Candles is part of the Inspector Alan Grant series. Among the first of the books to be written under the Josephine Tey pseudonym, the novel draws on the author’s experience working with theatrical actors and writing in Hollywood. It tells the tale of a film actress, who is found dead by drowning on a beach near Kent, where she was staying with a male friend. While her death is originally thought to be accidental drowning, Grant notices a button tangled in her hair, and feels that the death is suspicious. That’s compounded when the Inspector finds out that the actress recently wrote to her lawyer to add a section to her will. This new provision will allow her male friend, who has squandered his own fortune and now lives off the actress’s generosity, to get a portion of her considerable estate. Other suspects include an astrologist who accurately predicted the actresses death by drowning, the actress’s brother, a renowned con artist, and her husband, who is unwilling to share his whereabouts at the time of her death. With a range of suspects and little hard evidence to go off, Grant has to use all of his detective prowess and investigative skills to uncover the truth. In doing so, he has to work out both how and why the actress died, so he can figure out who orchestrated her death.
2. Miss Pym Disposes: With an engaging female lead and a traditional enclosed setting at a private girl’s school, this standalone novel should have been part of a series in my humble opinion. It’s a shame it’s not, but it’s still an enticing read. Psychologist and bestselling writer Lucy Pym is looking forward to giving a lecture at a Leys Physical Training College for girls where she can share her love of her chosen subject with a group of eager young students. Invited by her friend and the school’s principal to stay the night, the stay becomes a bit longer, and is then interrupted by a tragic death. It could be an accident, but it could also be something much worse, and the longer she stays, the more Miss Pym uncovers. The novel manages to toe the line between cosy crime fiction and biting thriller, making this a unique and engaging read for anyone who loves mysteries.
1. The Daughter of Time: The last book published in the author’s lifetime, this is an incredible book about Inspector Alan Grant’s investigations into King Richard The Third. With Grant confined to a hospital bed, an actress friend of his brings in some pictures of historical figures and suggests that he tries to uncover the truth behind a famous crime. When he sees the picture of the famous king, Grant believes that the world must be wrong in assuming him a cruel and callous killer who murdered the princes in the tower and many others. The book describes Grant’s work dissecting historical material and testing out his ideas on those surrounding him in the hospital. The book reminds me of the later work by Colin Dexter called The Wench Is Dead, and is a great example of the historical cold case revisited by a recuperating Inspector that has peppered both the crime book and TV market for the following decades.