While looking unsuccessfully for one mystery, I found another on the shelves at the Barnes & Noble in Oceanside, CA. I’d thought I’d gobbled up all the Josephine Tey novels when I discovered her in the 90s, but it seems I missed this one. (There are only eight.) I read a lot and thus do tend to forget a good portion of what I read—one excellent reason for this blog—but I don’t think I could have completely forgotten an entire novel. Especially such a fine one, in its own quiet way.
While Tey is considered a mystery writer—indeed, one of the notable women authors of the “golden age” of British mysteries—Miss Pym Disposes is a “regular” novel that only builds very slowly into a mystery. Lucy Pym, former French teacher and now celebrated author of a psychology best seller, arrives as an overnight guest at a women’s college for physical training and stays on—for another day, then a week—as she gets caught up in the lives of the students and staff. The experience gives Lucy the opportunity to test her theories a bit, to remember her own school days, and to bask in the friendships she quickly forges with some of the senior students.
Why should she go back to London yet? What was there to take her back? Nothing and nobody. For the first time, that fine, independent, cushioned, celebrated life of hers looked just a little bleak. A little narrow and inhuman…
It was nice to meet a morning-of-the-world youngness for a change…There was no good in trying to diddle herself about why she wanted to stay a little longer; why she was seriously prepared to forgo the delights of civilisation…It was nice to be liked.
Tey only introduces the novel’s tension—the awarding of a plumb position at a top-notch school—in chapter 6. And then lets the plot percolate, one small development at a time, amidst final exams, gymnastic demonstrations, and visits to the village tea shop: a world of women striving for independent lives in pre-World-War-II England. (It was published in 1946, but I don’t think it’s set in the 40s.) Tey’s writing is graceful, assured, and a pleasure to read. I was sorry this one had to end (unlike some other books I’ve been reading lately…).
Josephine Tey was one of the pseudonyms of Elizabeth Mackintosh (1897 – 1952). I haven’t been able to find a specific, authoritative website for her, but instead a mix of Wikipedia, various sites about mystery authors, readers’ blogs, booksellers, etc. She is beloved by the Richard III Society for her novel The Daughter of Time, in which (from his hospital bed) Detective Alan Grant solves the murder of Richard’s nephews. Some links:
- July 2011 article in The Guardian (UK)
Elizabeth Mackintosh: woman of mystery who deserves to be rediscovered
- Article at Richard III site
The Mystery of Josephine Tey