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4.3 out of 5 stars
The Singing Sands
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 1998
This (posthumously published) novel shows Tey at her best. Inspector Alan Grant, on his way by train to Scotland for a long-overdue spell of R&R, is on hand when a young man's body is found in an adjoining compartment. By accident, he finds himself in possession of a clue that hints that something wasn't right about the young man's death; in his pursuit of the truth, he travels as far as the Hebrides and meets characters ranging from a lovely widow who looks good in waders to a world-famous Arabian explorer, a young pilot friend of the deceased, and the unforgettable Wee Archie. The story line seems to ramble at times, but the conclusion is highly satisfying. Thoroughly enjoyable.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 15 October 2011
Josephine Tey is the most elegant and stylish of murder mystery writers. With her dry wit, spare prose and aristocratic disdain, she's the perfect antidote to the more gossipy, sensationalist and middle class Agatha Christie, who was her contemporary (though Tey died in 1952). She wasn't nearly as prolific as Christie (who was?) and these days she's not nearly as well known. But she produced, in my opinion, one must-read book for the murder mystery fan (The Daughter Of Time), and one quiet masterpiece (The Franchise Affair).
Whilst replacing my worn-out copies of these two books recently, I spotted this smart new edition and thought I'd invest in all her novels, starting with this one. I last read it over 30 years ago, and to my great disappointment I found it had dated very badly.
Inspector Grant of the Yard is her hero once again, and here he's travelling to Scotland on holiday to get over some sort of breakdown. A body is discovered on the night train and he takes it upon himself to solve the mystery, with an unfinished poem as his only clue.
Tey writes beautifully, as always, but in this book the tone has descended into outright snobbery (she was always teetering on the brink), and her characters are relics from a deferential class system that was surely on its last legs even in the 1950s. At one end of the social scale there are the plucky aristocrats like Lady Kentallen ('a darling'), clinging on to their down at heel country estates (yet with enough cash to send their sons to public school), who are obviously superior in taste and understanding to the pushy and vulgar middle classes. At the bottom of the heap are the plebs - the clueless waitresses, the cheerful charladies (like Grant's Mrs Tinker, described as being one of a 'species' that lives to wash other peoples' doorsteps!), and the salt-of-the-earth police sergeants. They all know their place and are grateful for it, implies Tey.
Unfortunately, the plot isn't good enough for you to overlook these dubious assumptions. Despite the great premise it turns into a very dull story. Grant spends half the book fishing, then dashes back to London and on to Marseilles on a wild goose chase that's hard to understand or care about. And when you're stuck with a plot that's not exactly a page turner, you can't help wondering why everyone defers to this man, and what exactly his relationship is with the victim's best friend, who becomes his unpaid sidekick. You can spot the villain a mile off, and the clunky clues make it easy to solve the mystery long before it dawns on Grant. And anyway, the whole thing is explained at the end in a handy letter written by the murderer before he goes off to kill himself.
This book was found in Tey's papers after her death and published posthumously, so we'll never know if she would have improved on it herself with a bit of editing and re-writing.
I don't think that a modern reader would try any more of her novels if this was the first one they came across, which would be a terrible shame. I'd only recommend it to Tey fans, like myself, who just want it to sit on their bookshelves to complete the set.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2003
I received this book as a gift in my early teens and it sparked a life-long interest in classic British crime and mystery - particularly the highly covetable Penguin green back paperback editions.
The Singing Sands not only has a great storyline but a wonderful sense of atmosphere in its description of the beautiful Highlands. In this, Tey writes marvellously well - I could taste Grant's horrible hotel breakfast with its yellowy soda scones.
Well worth reading if you have an interest in this genre.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 3 May 2001
first read this 25 years ago, and have periodically re-read ever since. gripping, fine detail, strong ending (unlike some other Tey work, unfortunately). worth visiting the real singing sands. a more modern, less pompous, Buchan in style.
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on 7 February 2015
This is the final appearance of Tey’s detective Alan Grant. He is in the middle of a nervous breakdown, and has to take time off from work. We have seen him incapacitated before, in ‘The Daughter of Time,’ where he rehabilitated the reputation of Richard III from his hospital bed, but then he had a physical injury. It is rather not the done thing for a Scotland Yard detective to be suffering from neurasthenia, as he is only too aware. He is in a bad way: ‘He was drained and empty; a walking nothingness.’
On his way to Scotland on the sleeper he stumbles on an accidental death that is rather suspicious and may be a crime, and Grant being Grant, he becomes involved.
The setting gives the opportunity for great descriptive writing and some interesting characters, including the Scottish Nationalist Wee Archie, who speaks Gaelic but has a Glaswegian accent. (This is apparently infra dig, and I imagine more Kelvinside than Govan).
There’s also Tey’s humour, with a running joke about the rolls in the hotel where Grant lands up at the beginning of the book: “No chew in them at all.” On the Hebridean island where his quest takes him there is also humour derived from the food in the disappointing hotel he stays in. (Get any idea of the film ‘I Know Where I’m Going’ out of your mind). It takes an hour for the kettle to boil, and Grant anticipates good traditional Scottish food, but is given pre-packaged stuff from anywhere but the island. When he finally gets the home-made scones he has hoped for, they are inedible. It is an unromantic place, though an anthropologist would probably be interested in the islanders’ fascination with televised ballet – they have never seen it live.
Grant gets over his breakdown by means of solving the crime, though I found the characters and settings more interesting than this part of the plot. He almost becomes entangled with an eligible aristocratic widow, but stops himself, realising that marriage wouldn’t suit him, and we leave him on the verge of some other kind of adventure.
It is not the best of her novels; ‘Miss Pym Disposes’ would be that in my opinion; and there are certain aspects of it, such as the conversational style of Grant’s housekeeper, that are a bit hard to take. It was a society where people 'knew their place.'
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on 23 October 2014
Her best in my opinion. Tey was from Inverness and so her Highlands background is authentic although she has a poor opinion of her fellow Scots! But she was in love with all things English. An absorbing story. Her hero Inspector Alan Grant is a forerunner of Adam Dalgleish. There are interesting under currents in her presentation of her hero this novel more so than in the others I have read.
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on 21 December 2014
t his was only the second Josephine Tey book I've read.
I found it easy to read , with enough to keep my interest and want to know what happens next. Her descriptive passages are always good and her hero, Grant, plausible.
There is a comfortable period feel, and not too complicated.
Most enjoyable.
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on 9 January 2015
A wonderfully well written book, typical of the golden age of crime writing in the UK. Characters can be a little one dimensional but the plot is so good and moves along so well that I can forgive this. Sense of place and time is excellent.
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on 4 June 2015
Another Alan Grant mystery and a good romp on the Highlands.......loved this book, lots of twists and turns, as well as Tey's wry look at life and the interaction between humans.......
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 December 2014
Excellent read. A near classic
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