Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book Review - Josephine Tey's The Man in the Queue

The Man in the Queue (Inspector Alan Grant Book 1) by Josephine Tey
Published by: Touchstone
Publication Date: 1929
Format: Paperback, 256 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Inspector Alan Grant has been given the infamous Queue case. A man with no identification was stabbed in a busy queue outside the Woffington Theatre as fans waited to see the final hurrah of Ray Marcable in the smash hit Didn't You Know? With just a knife and a handful of witnesses that didn't see anything, Inspector Grant is able to quickly build a case against the mysterious man he nicknames the Levantine, because of his swarthy appearance and the passionate and daring way the crime was committed. Yet what if all this evidence pointing at the unknown Levantine is just circumstantial? What if, while Grant builds a solid case against this one man, the killer walks free? Because even after hunting down the apparent killer through London and the Highlands, Grant still thinks that maybe, just maybe, there is a different interpretation of the evidence that he hasn't quite yet grasped.

Dear lord, Josephine Tey sure loved to avoid paragraph breaks, sheesh. Sometimes there would be pages upon pages of just dense, heavy text that I would slog through. This is easily the most overly written book I have read in recent memory which caused my experience with the book to be a very labored one. The writing style lent nothing to the story, unless a lead weight around your neck is a plus with books. Now, I'm not slamming writers who others might consider as overly written, like Erin Morgenstern and The Night Circus... but there's overwritten and then there's a rich tapestry of words that are evocative and make a world vibrant and alive. This is not Josephine Tey. I have a feeling that to Robert Barnard, the Tey scholar and writer I've never heard of that wrote this book's introduction which has more paragraph breaks then the book's first chapter, that "them be fighting words." Because apparently, to denigrate Tey is outre, but to pile on the harsh criticism to Agatha Christie is perfectly acceptable. Now I've only read one Tey and many Christie... but if this book is a testament to Tey, then we are through.

The aspect of this book that just baffled me is that it was a given that people in a queue would ignore each other and not be able to even slightly identify those around them after several hours in each others company. Is this a British thing that I just don't get despite my desire to be as British as can be while still being in Wisconsin? Because, let's put it this way; I have spent many an hour in a queue. I don't think I could even add it up, nor would I want to, because, let's put it this way, if I did, it would probably depress me to learn how much of my life has been spent waiting. From queues at conventions waiting for entrance and autographs, to queues at book signings, to just lining up for a movie, I have been in every kind of queue you could imagine, and you know what? In every instance I have talked to the people around me. I wasn't in an insular little bubble ignoring everyone and just playing on my phone, oh no. A chance comment from someone near me would spark a conversation, in fact the most recent that I remember clearly was when I went to see The Hobbit. The friend I was with, well, the conversation was lacking, so I took to talking to the picture of Martin Freeman on the movie poster, and I was lambasting him for the crap fest his tv show The Robinsons was, the people behind us spoke up saying how much they agreed on this fact and we got to talking about Martin Freeman and his mostly genius career (The Robinsons excluded).

At first I was thinking that maybe the people in this book's queue just didn't have anything in common... like one does at a convention or book signing, but then I thought, uh, no. These people are Ray Marcable fanatics (yes, I did audibly groan at her name)... of course they have a common link. So unless someone can come out and offer me 100% proof that Britain is not at all like America in it's queues then I'm calling Josephine Tey out as saying the crux of her book plays false. J'accuse! 

Though the superfluous writing combined with an illogical premise isn't what made this book fail me in every way, it's the fact that it was boring. Alan Grant bored me to tears. He just toddles through life looking nothing like a police officer and always being complimented on this. He sits in tubs and at fancy restaurants where he is fawned over while he pushes the case to the back of his mind, because not thinking about it too much helps him solve it. He goes to the race track, he goes fishing, he goes and resigns and we never hear from him again, I wish! As for the rest of the characters... no one is really painted in a bad light. They're all just people going about their lives. Boring dull people with boring dull lives. If you think about it, if there was a murder and you were accused, I'd bet only a handful of us would have an alibi, because, let's face it, our lives are rather dull and unvaried and go along as they always have. Therefore, by extension, in Tey's book, while no one really has an alibi, they are just as dull as we are on the whole. Who wants to read about people like us? A good book is an escape, not a dulled mirror of our day to day lives. Give me something to whet my appetite, make me want to read late into the night, not hope to misplace the book and never find it again.


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