Top critical review
A less good offering from a usually good author
on 22 November 2017
Josephine Tey is so famous that Nicola Upson has turned her into a character for her modern detective novels. However, although she is famous for several books, this one does little to enhance her reputation. It begins well enough, with an intriguing mystery involving the murder of a famous film star who is revealed to have had humble beginnings in England.
As others have mentioned, the racism in the book, with a Jewish character being presented as 'typical of his race', a 'Hebrew' etc etc is really shocking to the 21st century reader, and it comes as a real surprise to discover that this book was actually written after the second world war, when most writers would hesitate to describe Jews in this derogatory way. Tey's detective, Alan Grant, is a real forelock tugger, who admits he finds it much easier to interrogate the Jewish foreigner than the wealthy English aristocrat - a point of view that makes us despise him, while being aware that Tey meant him to be an attractive hero.
I quite enjoyed reading about the various suspects who come into the frame, and whose activities are later explained. Again, as with Alan Grant, the character of Erica Burgoyne who is 17 yet acts like a 7 year old doesn't do it for me, although I can tell Tey believed she was creating a winsome ingenue her readers would love. A modern reader is more likely to find her really annoying and not particularly believable.
Spoiler alert now!! The title refers to a bequest in the victim's will to a mysterious brother whom her friends had not known to have existed, and who emerges as a very sinister character. However, although the sections of the book involving him are well done, his character turns out to be very much a red herring to the main story. The revelation of the real culprit comes totally out of the blue. There are no clues, and Tey seems to break the who-dunnit code by making the murderer a very very minor character who has been only fleetingly mentioned. This provides a very unsatisfying conclusion and is the main weakness of the book. I did wonder if Tey changed her mind about whom to make guilty, or if someone advised her the obvious suspect was just 'too pat', as another character comments.