Tey's Grant

Josephine Tey is a mystery writer. I admire her greatly. Her writing is sardonic in the extreme (although not quite as steeped in sang froid as Catherine Aird). The best description of her novels is a comedy of manners. She has a number of cryptic things to say about newspaper reporters and novelists. My favorite of her books is To Love and Be Wise in which she lightly, but elegantly, satirizes modern novelists in a small village, including the super profound novelist, Silas Weekly, who writes about manure and adultery and corruption in rural locations. A character remarks that the literary press adored Silas until he became popular, when they decided he was old hat.

Anyway, what I like best about Tey is her detective Grant, and the reason I like Grant (Alan is his first name) is that Grant is imperfect. I don't mean imperfect in the "let's deconstruct his flaws" sense, I mean imperfect in the sense that Tey herself stands apart from Grant. She doesn't defend him. With Ngaoi Marsh, one feels that Marsh is always trying to convince you what a truly nice guy Alleyn is. Christie is more detached from Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, but in terms of detection, they make no errors. And Sayers was invested in explicating Wimsey's personality, which is entirely appropriate to the kind of novels that she wrote. But Grant is simply just, this guy, ya know (as somebody says of somebody else in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). He might be her next door neighbor. Maybe her cousin.

He is fully admirable, being intelligent and diligent. Like Alleyn, he is looked up to by his sidekick, but Grant comes right out and admits that he likes a little adulation. (Alleyn has to pretend that he isn't being worshipped, which must be a strain.) Grant himself is also rather detached. His cousin, Laura, can never get him to marry, and Grant misses several opportunities simply because he isn't paying attention (he isn't absent-minded; he is too self-absorbed). Anyway, Grant doesn't want to get married. He is more Archie Goodwin than Wimsey. His female love interest (sort of) is Marta, an actress, who doesn't want to get married either and scares men. She latches onto Grant, probably because he has no fear.

In fact, Grant has tremendous confidence. He is somewhat prideful, not in the "I'm better than others" sense, but in his sureness about his own abilities. He has a "flare" for odd situations, but he isn't even remotedly the insightful, thoughtful, concerned, all-knowing, tortured detective of so much detective fiction. You get the impression that he is a bit self-centered, that he knows and doesn't care. Yet he isn't dislikable. And I think that is a remarkable feat of fiction writing.

Tey books in order of my preference:

To Love and Be Wise (Grant)
Daughter of Time (Grant)
Franchise Affair (Grant has a cameo appearance)
The Singing Sands (Grant)
Brat Farrar
A Shilling for Candles (Grant)
Man in the Queue (Grant)
Miss Pym Disposes (I don't like this one: too sad)


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