Books: The Singing Sands

After reading The Daughter of Time, I checked the library catalog to see if there were any more books by Josephine Tey. There weren’t, at least not at this library. (I just found some available through interlibrary loan and put one on hold.) Then one day I was looking through the shelves of books for sale (books that have been removed from the library’s collection, presumably due to disuse), and found The Singing Sands. I promptly purchased it, and this week I read it.

Like The Daughter of Time, it features Scotland Yard detective Alan Grant. Again he is trying to solve a crime while he is supposed to be recovering, though this time instead of lying in a hospital bed he is on vacation in the Scottish Highlands. He has been suffering panic attacks, and in particular he can’t stand being in confined spaces. His doctor tells him it’s from overwork, and orders him to take some time off.

A large part of the book deals with Grant examining his own feelings and motives. Some readers might find this boring, and wish for more action or at least more focus on detective work. Grant does find himself obsessed with understanding what happened to a young man who died on the train that took Grant to Scotland. But because the one thing he knows about the man is that he had a newspaper in his possession with a few lines of verses scribbled on it, Grant goes in search of places that the verses might refer to.

It’s certainly not the usual trajectory for the plot of a mystery novel – especially as Grant finds out nothing about the mysterious man from his travels. What he does find, though, is himself – the normal self that enjoys life, enjoys doing detective work, and doesn’t mind riding in cars or even in airplanes. He never does learn what caused the panic attacks – one assumes that his doctor is correct, that it was from overwork – but I suppose in the end it doesn’t matter.

He does eventually unravel the mystery of the death of the man on the train, and learns that he was right about most – though not quite all – of his guesses about it. But it is the process of his search for answers, and the interesting people he interacts with along the way, that make it such a satisfying book to read.


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