Books: The Man in the Queue

I debated with myself whether to write a post about the book I just finished reading. On the one hand, I haven’t posted anything in a few days. And I did enjoy the book.

On the other hand, it’s hard to know what to say about The Man in the Queue, the first mystery novel written by Josephine Tey. It’s hard to say much about the plot without revealing something about the ending. And the things I liked about the book are pretty much the same as I enjoyed with the other Josephine Tey mysteries – except perhaps not quite as much in this book because it was her first.

If there’s one idea that stands out, from reading the book, it’s the age-old wisdom that appearances are deceiving. As one novelist commented regarding Josephine Tey’s writing, “All crime writers must be concerned with the ways in which criminals disguise themselves and are found out by their investigators, but Tey’s interest went beyond that.” She was obsessed “with the masks people wear and the truths they hide.”

I don’t intentionally put on masks most of the time but there are certainly things I hide. When I’m at work, especially sitting at the front desk as I do, I am not about to give a frank answer every time someone asks how I’m doing. If I’m tired, I may say so, or comment on being busy (to someone I know fairly well, not to visitors) or looking forward to the weekend. But there are plenty of feelings I hide for one reason or another.

I have been amazed, sometimes, to discover people think I am self-confident when I am so full of self-doubts. There are times it is necessary to act confident, regardless of how you feel, but it is strange to find that even when I haven’t been intending to convey a confidence I didn’t feel, that people got that impression anyway.

If I were a character in a murder mystery, what sort of character would I be? (Not the victim, I hope!) I can’t imagine being a suspect either, but I could easily be someone who wasn’t telling all I knew because it didn’t seem relevant to the crime. I wouldn’t protect someone who was guilty of murder, but I would be inclined to withhold information that would hurt the reputation of someone I cared about without helping solve the case.

One character I’m sure I would not be is the detective. I like solving puzzles, but not the kind that deal in deciphering people’s motives. I don’t even try to solve the mystery in mystery novels. I am quite content to wait for the author to make all things clear, rather than trying to put all the clues together and figure out “whodunnit” before the villain is unmasked.

If I did want to solve them myself, I would probably not like Josephine Tey’s novels. I hadn’t really noticed it until I read the introduction by Robert Barnard to this edition of The Man in the Queue. Joesphine Tey, he explains, “reveals a sort of impatience with the rules and conventions of the whodunnit.”

Several reader reviews of the novel at amazon.com complain that the ending is not “fair” because there is no way the reader could have figured it out from the clues that were given. But Tey evidently saw no reason why she could not write mysteries that differed from those typical of the genre. As Barnard points out, that makes each of her books different, because they depart from the norm in different ways. I don’t know that it makes her books better than those of writers who stick to the formula. But it certainly makes them interesting.

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