Most early 20th century detective novels go something like this: a dead person – a detective – several interviews and red herrings – the detective has a small crisis – more interviews – the detective solves the crime – hurray! NOT THIS ONE.
A guest lecturer at a college for women, new author Miss Pym becomes involved in a question of cheating during final exams. Does her act of compassion precipitate a fatal accident – or murder?
Over the course of the previous year I have read my way through my grandfather’s collection of Agatha Christie novels (though I haven’t blogged about them at all, foei) and after having finished the last one a few weeks ago, I asked him to recommend me something else. He suggested Josephine Tey.
Miss Pym gives a guest lecture at a girls PE college because she he has – much to her own surprise – written a best-selling book on psychology. She is pressed by her enthusiastic listeners to stay a little longer and enjoy the fresh countryside air. The story bubbles on happily, almost like a St. Clare’s (Enid Blyton) book. Tey only slowly unveils the bitter competitiveness that underlies the gay chatter of the girls, thus allowing it to creep under your skin before you know it is there. If you allow this book to draw you into the story, it will provide you with a number of very rich plots, sub plots and character details.
What I enjoyed most about the novel is that Miss Pym does not only solve the crime, she also tries to ‘fix’ it. She is not a deus ex machina like Poirot (Christie), who watches from the sidelines and steps in at the end, but a very human detective, who cares for and is involved in the girls lives. She struggles with the knowledge that has been thrust upon her and tries to deal with it as well as possible.
In short, I recommend this book to anyone who has enjoyed Agatha Christie and is looking for something new. It is original in several ways and will surprise you at the end :). I, for one, have already started another novel by Tey: Brat Farrar.
p.s. If you wondered – the title comes from a quote by Thomas a Kempis, “Man proposes, but God disposes”. It reflects the central theme of responsibility in the novel.