‘The Man In The Queue’ (Inspector Alan Grant #1) by Josephine Tey

That this was a debut mystery shows through a little in some less-than-perfect pacing and a slightly odd storytelling viewpoint. but that is more than made up for by the vivid descriptions of 1920’s London, especially its theatreland and by the introduction of a strongly-drawn main character, Inspector Alan Grant. The plot is a little improbable and the solution is clumsy by the people and places feel real,

The book gets off to a slightly sluggish start, ameliorated by atmospheric descriptions of the rituals and entertainments associated with the process of patiently queuing in the rain in hope of gaining a theatre seat.

The scenes in the theatre, both when Grant meets the star of the show in her dressing room and then sees beyond her glamour in her final performance hum with life and lift the book.

The premise, an unknown man stabbed in a theatre queue by an unknown assailant, gives Grant the double challenge of identifying both parties. The manhunt that follows is methodical and sometimes ingenious but I didn’t find it engaging. Almost halfway through, something happened that twisted my understanding of what was going on and the story moved from relentless manhunt to something more complicated and whole new set of possibilities opened up.

The ending, although plausible, was clumsily handled by comparison to the rest of the plot and left me dissatisfied.

The main thing I took away from the book was Tey’s ability to bring people and places alive. Her main focus was Inspector Alan Grant, who appeared in six of her mystery books. I found that, the longer the book went on, the more I understood him and the less I liked him.

Grant is a charming but emotionally distant introvert who assess the world from behind an extrovert’s smile. He has the easy social grace of a man who went to the right schools, served as an officer in World War I and survived and who is financially independent. He lives alone. He appears to have no close friends and no lovers. He seems comfortable in his isolation, which he appears to experience as freedom.

Grant is seen by his colleagues and superiors at Scotland Yard as having ‘flair‘. This is something closely associated with imagination and therefore suspect if used too often but Grant’s charming, self-deprecating style convinces people to trust him. This surprised me as Grant’s first instinct, in most cases, is to lie to get what he wants. He’s almost pathologically incapable of a straightforward approach Even when he sets out to arrest a man and has a warrant in his pocket, he relies on subterfuge rather than just serving the warrant and making the arrest. He picks subordinates who share his talent for trickery and lies and he and they default to covert methods of investigation. Yet Grant’s public face is one of firm-but-fair open-minded rectitude.

It seems to me that the real Grant is what he refers to as ‘his watcher’ who always sit back and assesses people and situations dispassionately. This ‘watcher’ is not passive. Grant is an ambush predator. His watcher is always scenting for prey and looking for ambush points.

I had the same experience watching Grant that he had when watching the charismatic actress’ final performance. I saw past the glamour to the clever predator hiding in the shadows.

I was perhaps helped in this by the fact that Grant is a man of times and class. His judgements are based on crude stereotypes about race and class that mean the world he sees is not really what’s in front of him. He suspects the foreigner and constantly refers to the suspect, even after he knows his name, as ‘the Dago’. He under-estimates women and is completely unconscious of his own privilege.

Of course, Grant as privileged English predator may have been exactly what Tey intended me to see. My dislike of Grant is a sign of how strongly drawn he is. I’ll read the next book in the series just to see what happens to him.

6 thoughts on “‘The Man In The Queue’ (Inspector Alan Grant #1) by Josephine Tey

  1. To me, it‘s in the complete misconception of police procedure and the way this impacts the portrayal of Grant‘s character that it most obviously shows that this is a debut mystery. Tey later learned more about how the police really work (though she never seems to have cared enough to learn *all* the relevant details, or in any event to apply them to her novels), and as a result, her portrayal of Grant, too, evolves in the later books.

    I liked her first novel chiefly for the same reason as you — atmosphere — and looking at the series as a whole, that‘s what definitely stands out most in my mind as well.

    Have you read “The Franchise Affair“, btw? It‘s “technically“ part of the Grant series, but Grant only makes a token minor appearance; the real hero is an attorney (as well as his client), (both of) whom I think you might rather like. — The plot is a mid-20th century take on a (rather shocking and egregious) true story from the 18th century … look it up once you‘ve finished the book (not beforehand, though, if you don‘t want to spoil the solution for yourself).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I haven’t read ‘The Franchise Affair’ but I’m going to read all the Tey books so I’ll take that one next.
      I could see that Tey didn’t know (or care) about police procedure but it interested me that she portrayed Scotland Yard as a gentleman’s club that operated by stealth.

      I’m interested in seeing how Grant changes. I couldn’t see much a connection between the Grant here and the man I met in ‘The Daughter Of Time’.

      Liked by 2 people

      • No, you won‘t see much of the man you meet here in *any* of the other books. Or paradoxically, if anywhere, it‘s in “The Franchise Affair“, as there it is his role as a policeman that makes him a natural antagonist to the book‘s actual protagonists … even though Tey indicates his regret that this is so. (I suspect that this is why she essentially chose to tell the story through someone else‘s eyes, though — it simply required a different perspective.)
        In most of the later books, Grant is, to some extent or another, shown as not really synching with the prevailing spirit at Scotland Yard. His “flair“ still remains one of his hallmarks, and his successes make him a respected officer, but he‘s decidedly more the thinker you also meet in “The Daughter of Time“, and he often goes unconventional ways and achieves results that way (in the final book — “The Singing Sands“ — in particular, much to his superiors‘ disgust; in fact, the book begins with him starting out on a holiday because he is in an existential crisis over his professional mission).

        Liked by 2 people

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