The Golden Age of Crime and Josephine Tey

The book cover shows an unbuttoned coat with arms extended, floating in dark waves, with a rocky island in the background with a lit candle shining from the summit.

By Julie F.

Think for a moment about Agatha Christie: how many versions and adaptations of Poirot and Marple have you read or seen? How popular do her novels remain to this day? And a question asked of librarians worldwide: If you’ve read and loved all of Christie, and viewed everything produced by Acorn and Britbox, where do you turn for a puzzling new mystery?

Faithful readers of Golden Age crime novels often read, and re-read, their favorite writers out of devotion to this inimitable era and style of crime fiction. Golden Age works were primarily written by British authors but also a few famous practitioners in the United States; these include Mary Roberts Rinehart, whose popularity in her heyday rivaled Agatha Christie’s. Rinehart’s novel The Door popularized the phrase “The butler did it!” even though those words appear nowhere in the book. In Great Britain, one of the best but most underappreciated writers in this style was Scottish author Josephine Tey. A versatile writer of plays, poetry, and short stories as well as mystery novels, Tey is most famous for the work declared “Greatest Crime Novel of All Time” by the British Crime Writers’ Association: The Daughter of Time (also available as an eaudiobook from Libby/OverDrive).

The book cover depicts a painted, framed portrait of a king, presumed to be Richard III of England, against a white background.

Tey’s series character, Inspector Alan Grant, is sidelined in a hospital bed with a broken leg and bored to tears with inactivity. A friend of Grant’s, actress Marta Hallard, suggests that he try his hand at solving a famous historical mystery, since he can’t actively investigate clues or hunt down a killer while confined to the sickroom and limited in his movements. While researching various figures, Grant discovers that Richard III looks kindlier than the way he is portrayed in the historical rogues’ gallery of villains. In fact, Grant wonders if the famous Tudor king was really responsible for all the tragedy and evil attributed to him, including the deaths of his young nephews Edward and Richard? Richard III was serving as regent for Edward V when the two boys were declared illegitimate, then disappeared from history. Now, Inspector Grant is on the case!

The novel becomes a thorough exploration of that important task of historians: to sift the facts from myth and legend, to figure out what version of an event is authoritative, to consider how one viewpoint’s retelling becomes prevalent while another fades into the mists of time. The reader learns about history as a construct while Grant learns more about his infamous subject. It becomes the mission – if not the obsession – of Grant and his eager young assistant, British Museum researcher Brent Carradine, to crack the case.

The book cover depicts the headshot of a woman, lying on her side and staring at the viewer, with her fingers to her mouth. Her eyes are wide with long lashes and carefully manicured brows.

Tey wrote one other mystery with a tinge of history, The Franchise Affair, based on a famous kidnapping case in the eighteenth century even though it is set in the 1940s. This book and six others are part of Tey’s series featuring Inspector Grant, although he appears in it only briefly. I recently read the second book, A Shilling for Candles, and I loved what her fellow Scot, crime writer Val McDermid, had to say about her in a CrimeReads article. McDermid postulates that Tey is actually a bridge between the Golden Age writers and modern crime novelists like Ruth Rendell (my all-time favorite) and Patricia Highsmith, with a more subtle, psychological, sexually ambiguous character study than authors like Christie and Ngaio Marsh. Her work is an uneasy, darker take on individual identity that is decidedly a forerunner to Rendell and Highsmith. A Shilling for Candles (also available in ebook format from Libby/OverDrive) is also a good story for film and theatre buffs (like many of Marsh’s Roderick and Troy Alleyn novels). Tey’s experience as a playwright gives her remarkable insight into the competitive, dramatic lives of actors and actresses on and off the stage and screen.

Read Josephine Tey’s Inspector Grant novels if you have a hankering for a “new “author who is just as deserving as Dame Agatha of acclaim and fame. For those interested in whether Richard III really murdered his nephews, Marylander Barbara Mertz, who also wrote fantastic romantic thrillers under the pseudonym Barbara Michaels, explored this historical puzzle further in her novel The Murders of Richard III (available from Libby/Overdrive as an ebook), written under her more famous pseudonym, Elizabeth Peters. And finally, Nicola Upson has a great historical mystery series of her own, featuring none other than Josephine Tey as her amateur sleuth.

Julie is an instructor and research specialist at HCLS Miller Branch who finds her work as co-editor of Chapter Chats very rewarding. She loves gardening, birds, crime fiction, all kinds of music, and the great outdoors.

Mysteries and Spices!

Thursday, March 17 @ 6:30 pm REGISTER

Conversation and Parsi Cuisine Demo with Authors Sujata Massey and Niloufer Mavalvala.

Navroze Mubarak!

Navroze or “New Day” in Farsi (Parsi) marks the first day of the spring equinox for the northern hemisphere, which falls on March 20/21 each year. It reminds us that the cold is coming to an end, and it’s time to cleanse our homes that have remained closed over the wintry days – a new year to start afresh. The occasion is celebrated with friends, families, and neighbors, sharing what we are fortunate enough to have with others. (Mubarak means congratulations.)

On March 17, we bring you a specially curated and deliciously crafted evening where we discuss the richly detailed and intricately plotted Perveen Mistry mystery series with Author Sujata Massey. Sujata’s immensely popular book The Widows of Malabar Hill seamlessly weaves together historical, political and social layers–suffocating colonialism, societal systems more concerned with appearance than equity, racial and gender disparities. Through Perveen Mistry, Sujata brings to life Bombay in the 1920’s and captures the fine details of Parsi culture

The cover of The Bonbay Prince shows two women in saris ascending a staircase with a decorative banister, looking up as two men in suits appear to be fighting on a balcony above them.  A potted palm tree is visible through a window on the landing.

“Graceful prose and mastery of period detail . . . [The Bombay Prince] propels a rich story of female empowerment during a pivotal era.” -Kirkus Reviews

A favorite with our book groups, Perveen Mistry, the spunky, sari-clad lawyer, tackles mysteries with wit and a shrewd intelligence. Reviewing The Bombay Prince, Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Rose Code says, “Perveen’s investigation into the mysterious death of a young university student coincides with the imperial visit of the future Edward VIII, and the resulting trail of breadcrumbs through royal receptions, street riots, squalid jails, and lavish hotels makes for a deliciously satisfying read!”

In conversation with Sujata is Parsi culinary expert and author Niloufer Mavalvala. Niloufer has written two lavishly illustrated cookbooks with a treasure trove of authentic Parsi recipes. The Art of Parsi Cooking: Reviving an Ancient Cuisine and The World of Parsi Cooking: Food Across Borders are great for beginners as well as experienced cooks. 

The cover of The World of Parsi Cooking shows a pomegranate with a bowl of dip, and various spices and seeds including cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods, against a bright pink tablecover.

Niloufer was born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan and her love for food combined with extensive world travel from a young age inspired her to experiment with world cuisines. She has written articles published in a variety of magazines, journals, and newspapers, and she has been a guest chef at Le Cordon Bleu in London and on the television show for The Cooks Cook in New Hampshire and, more recently, on Voice of Canada.

Niloufer warmly invites us into her home and kitchen as she demonstrates her favorite quick-n-easy recipe and details the unique history and culture of the Parsi community.

The photograph is of a Haftseen table, with tulips and lilacs, an apple and colored eggs, salt and pepper shakers and candlesticks, and a crystal goblet with a beverage, all on a lace tablecover on an ornate wooden table.

The Haftseen table is a symbolic tribute to the seven creations of the universe; fire, water, air, earth, metal, and the plant and animal kingdoms. It thanks the universe for what we have and pray for continuity in the days to come. It is called Haftsheen or Haftseen, where seven items that start with the sound ‘S’ or ‘Sh’ are placed on the table alongside other symbols. 

Join us for Mysteries and Spices on Thursday, March 17 @ 6:30 pm. REGISTER