Thursday, March 15, 2007

Josephine Tey: It's Quality Not Quantity That Matters

Of all the writers associated with the Golden Age of Mysteries, the most tantalizing is Josephine Tey, not only because of her immense talent but because her career in the genre was so unfortunately brief. She therefore leaves a body of work that is exceptional almost as much for what it suggests was yet to come as that which, in fact, remains.

Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and of course, Erle Stanley Gardner produced a wealth of novels in sheer volume alone. But, quite amazing for her honored status among the stars of the genre, Josephine Tey (real name Elizabeth Mackintosh) left us only eight mystery novels.

Still, all it takes to understand this phenomenon is to read one. I have little doubt that you will soon read another, and another, and before you’re much further in the regimen, you will have already joined the ranks of those mystery readers who put Josephine Tey in the first rank of Golden Age greats.

These thoughts, by the way, arose after recently finishing Joesphine Tey’s first book, The Man in the Queue, a delightful mystery in which the problem is less a question of who was the killer than it was who was killed! I now think it to be my favorite Tey mystery…understanding, of course, that nothing could displace The Daughter of Time as my ultimate Tey favorite...indeed, one of my favorite books -- period.

But more on that another time.

While I'm on this subject, let me point out a very detailed, very interesting article about Josephine Tey right here. But please be careful. There's a lot of biographical and bibliographical material there but some of it will "give the game away" regarding plots of certain novels. I'd suggest bookmarking the site and reading it AFTER you've read Tey's mysteries themselves.

A shorter piece, and one that will not spoil anything, is in the Washington Post from 2003. It is here.