I like Josephine Tey's Inspector Alan Grant. As a matter of fact I think he is worthy of inclusion into my own personal 'crushable' favorite characters hall of fame (crushable being--the sort of fictional character on whom I will admit to having a little crush). The Man in the Queue, published in 1929, is Grant's first mystery. Tey (really Elizabeth Mackintosh) only wrote six of them along with a small handful of standalone novels and a few plays. The blurb on the cover of the book is "The Classic Mystery Writer" and I think I have to concur with that categorization. This is a very traditional, well plotted, good old fashioned detective story.
Inspector Grant? Where to begin. He reminds me a little of P.D. James's Adam Dalgliesh--a private, cerebral person, thought rather tall, dark and handsome by some. Inspector Grant has a good supply of devotion and duty along with brains and courage. Four years on the Western Front and many more in the C.I.D. has led him to develop an acute sixth sense which serves him well when working on a murder case or general crime solving. The last thing he looks like, however, is a police officer. He's of mid-height, slight build and on the dapper side (though not of a "tailor's dummy type" Tey informs her reader). He has a half-careless thoroughness about him and is efficient and practical. He's brisk and always thinking and speculating on his work. Some years before he came into a considerable legacy and easily could have retired, but he's got quite a knack for his job and no desire to give it up. Oh, and he's a good judge of a horse.
He'll need every bit of that efficiency and thoroughness for London's latest murder. Not only must the murderer be sussed out, but the identity of the victim isn't even known until well into the story. It's a March evening and the long running play "Didn't You Know" is coming to an end. The star, Ray Marcable, is taking her success to America. She's much loved and the crowd outside the theater is thick with fans waiting to see her one last time. The crush of people is so intense that no one even realizes that a man in the queue has been stabbed in the back. The sheer number of people packed together has kept him upright, and it is only when the line begins to move and he slumps forward and falls does anyone realize that something dark and deadly has just occurred.
There is very little on the man's body to help identify him. Despite so many people so close together no one seems to have seen much of anything. The forensic evidence points to a left handed man, and definitely a man and not a woman, who yielded enough force to drive the weapon in at such close quarters. It's determined that the murderer used a very thin, sharp stiletto to commit the murder. And Grant is sure that the murder was planned with much ingenuity and and executed with great subtlety. And he believes that this is a most un-English crime. Between the way the murder was executed and the particular weapon used Grant has formed in his mind a picture of just who might have committed it.
It's by a combination of supposition and plain everyday detective work--pounding the pavement and asking questions over and over that Grant pieces together who the man murdered was, and who is likely to have been the perpetrator. He is hot on his heels when the suspect, a step ahead of Grant, flees to Scotland where an arduous and adventurous chase ensues. And when he tracks the suspect down Grant must reassess all the clues he's gathered and the picture he has in his mind of the murderer. Things rarely are what they seem, and when all the clues stack up and point directly at the individual who Grant was certain did the deed, he begins to second guess himself fearing he's caught the wrong man. Circumstances put him in the right place at the wrong time, but did he really do it?
And the picture Grant paints at the start of the story based on the murder? A so very un-English type of crime? Well, there are lots of red herrings and turns down streets with no outlets to create doubt and leave questions unanswered. There are a few twists and turns but nothing shocking, just good, plain detective work by a man with admirable talents. I'll just say that Tey has created a very human and likable character who is not without faults or shortcomings but is mostly very good at his job.
I want to know him more. Grant's next mystery is A Shilling for Candles which I see that Alfred Hitchcock filmed as Young and Innocent. With only six Grant mysteries I am thinking I could easily read them in almost one go, though I will likely pick something different for my next Vintage Mystery. For Bingo I need to read six mysteries (and fill six slots--so far I have read one book with a 'color in the title' and one 'set in the entertainment world'). I think I like Josephine Tey very much and especially her dapper detective.