Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

Apparently Tey was a really popular mystery writer in the forties and fifties though I only heard of her recently when I read an interview with a children's book writer that declared this one of the greatest books of all time. I must say I did really enjoy it (though it wouldn't go on any best-of lists for me) but interestingly the only reason I knew it was a mystery was because the cover told me so. The novel takes place at a women's physical training college that as far as I could tell turned out gymnasts, dance teachers, girl's athletic coaches and nurses and one of the things I really enjoyed was the close study of this little post-war, pre-modern world that I never knew existed (physical training colleges?) (and now that I think about it because of the setting the novel is populated by about twenty women and three men which also made it feel unique). But what was striking was that the murder (which you assume is coming having judged the book by its cover) doesn't take place until 2/3rds, maybe even 3/4ths of the way in. And it's perfectly obvious who did it. (both who you are supposed to think did it and who really did it--it's not a spoiler, I'm telling you, you'd know). And so really what makes this a mystery? Isn't it just a novel with a murder in it? Though I like the idea of more mystery writers embracing the idea of holding off on the crime and establishing characters and setting first. Lately most of the contemporary mysteries I've read (which I admit has pretty much been limited to Elizabeth George and Kate Atkinson) put the crime in chapter one and then need to resort to a second crime halfway through to up the stakes again. The thought of building to the crime--and hopefully disguising it and its perpetrators more than Tey does--intrigues me.

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