Cover of Singing Sands

The Singing Sands
Josephine Tey
202 pages
Published in 1952

I had heard about Josephine Tey in connection with her historical novel about Richard III and the murder of the two princes in the tower, The Daughter of Time but apart from that only knew she was a detective writer of about the same generation as Dorothy Sayers. I hadn't really gotten any recommendations about her, so it was a bit of a gamble picking up this novel. Not that it wasn that big a gamble, since I bought it in a shop where the books sold three to the pound. It's always pleasant to be able to try out new authors at such low prices.

The Singing Sands is a classic example of an English "cozy" detective novel. As such it was an enjoyable read, though no more then that. To be honest, it reads a bit old fashioned, far more so then the detective novels of Dorothy Sayers, even if the latter where written a good fifteen years earlier. This is also a book which isn't any better then it has to be to be enjoyed. Not throwaway pulp, but neither is it a book meant to be reread over and over again; there's little depth to it.

The plot is fairly simple. Inspector Alan Grant is lately plagued with a touch of claustrophobia brought on by overwork, so goes to stay with friends in Scotland to recuperate. He takes the nighttrain and when it arrives at the place of destiny he's an accidental witness when the inhabitant of compartiment B7 turns out to have died during the night. The unfortunate man had fallen and hit his head against the porcelain wash-hand basin in his cabin, dying from internal haemorrhage not long after. An unfortunate accident so it seems.

Yet inspector Grant can't let go. He had accidentily picked up the newspaper of the dead man when he walked out of the train, in which there was a small poem:

'the Beasts that talk,
The streams that stand,
The stones that walk,
The singing sand...'

For some reason, this is enough for Grant to stay interested and he starts quietly investigating, just to satisfy his curiosity, as a few things don't seem to match up...

Grant's investigation and hence the plot unfold reasonably well, here and there helped by a fortuitous bit of coincidence. I'm not entirely pleased with the resolution; it all a bit too pat. What really bothered me though has little to do with the story itself, as it has to do with the tone in which it was told. I don't know if she does it in all her novels, but Josephine Tey was incredibly patronising here. The way she talked about Scotland for example grated and at one point I almost threw the book against the wall. It's the smug, self satisfied tone of the complacent English, sure of their place in the sun, politely condescending to everybody else. If you can stand this, this is an entertaining enough detective story, if not, give this a miss.

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Webpage created 13-09-2002, last updated 13-09-2002
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