The singing sands
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But if seems he is not to be spared the corpses even when he isn't working and as he is getting off the sleeper he sees a man has died during the journey and accidentally picks up a newspaper from his berth on which the dead man has apparently scribbled some lines of verse. Grant cannot get those lines out of his head and keeps returning to them and wondering especially about the Singing Sands which are mentioned in the verse.
I found this a truly fascinating read and I completely lost myself in it while I was reading. There are marvellous descriptions of the wild beauty of the Hebridean Islands and the people who live there and at times I could almost taste the salt spray and feel the wind on my face. I thought the author captured Grant's state of mind extremely well and I could feel his panic and his need to get out of enclosed spaces.
As Grant delves into the mystery of the dead man and picks up snippets of information here and there to piece together the mystery he gradually recovers from his mental problems and loses himself in finding out what happened to his fellow traveller.
This isn't a conventional detective story but it is a skilfully plotted mystery and the reader follows Grant's search for the truth about the dead man as it happens. I would defy any reader to work out what had happened before the truth is finally revealed - it isn't that sort of book - but it is fascinating nonetheless and I was totally lost in it for most of the time I was reading it and was sorry when I turned the last page.
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.'
There is too much padding, many of the characters are eccentric and the solution may have seemed a good way to end the novel but it leaves the reader feeling slightly disappointed. No doubt it would have been improved by Tey if she had lived to polish it before publication.
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.
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