I expected to like this a lot. Golden Age crime fiction, I’m pretty sure my mother mentioned liking it, etc, etc. But I couldn’t get past the endless racism, and the general feeling that Josephine Tey would be a men’s rights activist now. I mean, a woman on the stage overshadows her male co-stars, and yet the whole tone is not, wow, her skill and grace and so on, but that she is secretly a conniving bitch. The whole story serves to hammer home that she’s a woman who only cares about herself — with very little actual evidence, which is funny coming from a detective story. Someone else summarised it really well, and I can only quote (warning, spoilers):
So, someone who wants to kill a woman because he can’t have her is sane. Someone who wants to kill a man to save her daughter’s life is crazy. Very, very interesting, Tey. And at the end we’re asked teasingly whether there’s a villain in the story. I strongly suspect the villain we’re meant to think of is the woman the murder victim was going to kill. If she’d been nicer, she’d have appreciated that nice young man, you see, and none of this trouble would have happened.
(From Leonie’s review on Goodreads)
The description and so on can be as clever as it likes, but I couldn’t stand one more slighting reference to “the Dago”, or commentary about the “un-English crime”, or any of that. And the mystery itself… it’s obvious from the length of the book that the inspector is after the wrong man. It’s obvious from the way the man and the people around him act, too. The only excuse for going along with the thin, motiveless explanation Grant dredges up is if you’ve got a prejudice to begin with and you’re going to stick to your theory no matter what — no matter how Tey makes a song and dance about Grant being bothered by the case.
The reason Grant is wrong, well, at least you can’t blame him there. There’s virtually no clue, and nothing tied specifically to any suspect other than the red herring one. You can’t guess it directly from the information given — not a hope.
I sound really scathing, but that’s in part because I hoped I’d really enjoy this. I read it pretty much in one go: the narration is pretty compulsive, and the narrative voice is an interesting choice too. But the pretty sentences didn’t save it from how bothered I was with the outdated stuff (reliance on reading people’s faces, reliance on “national characters”, etc). Now I’ve gone looking at reviews, I can see other people who didn’t think much of this one did like her later work, so I might still be along for the ride there if I can get it from the library.