Josephine Tey

By: Amanda French
July 25, 2014


JOSEPHINE TEY (Elizabeth Mackintosh, 1896-1952) is remembered today for her eight mystery novels, especially The Daughter of Time, which features a hospitalized Scotland Yard detective solving the five-hundred-year old mystery of who killed the two princes in the tower (semi-spoiler alert: not King Richard the III, according to Tey, no matter what Shakespeare and all the history books said). The charm of an Agatha Christie lies in its clever, twisty plotting; the charm of a Dorothy L. Sayers lies in its intellect, wit, and ethical philosophizing. Yet there may be no such thing as “a Josephine Tey,” and that is the charm of her octet. Thinks Tey’s Inspector Grant in his hospital bed,

Authors today wrote so much to a pattern that their public expected it. The public talked about “a new Silas Weekley” or “a new Lavinia Fitch” exactly as they talked about “a new brick” or “a new hairbrush.” They never said “a new book by” whoever it might be. Their interest was not in the book but in its newness. They knew quite well what the book would be like.

Not so with Tey’s eight mysteries, each of which is unlike all the others — and, in the case of The Daughter of Time, The Franchise Affair (an upper-middle-class mother and daughter are falsely accused of kidnapping by a working-class teenager whose resilient lie a country lawyer attempts to disprove), and Brat Farrar (largely told from the perspective of the most sympathetic impostor claimant to a large inheritance you will ever encounter), unlike any other mystery novel you’ve ever read. If only there were more like them, or rather unlike them.


ALSO on HILOBROW: Best Forties Adventure | Best Scottish Novelists.

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Elias Cannetti, Rosalind Franklin.

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).