A Shilling for Candles

by Josephine Tey

Paperback, 1998




Touchstone, (1998)


A woman's body is found on the English seacoast, and twisted in her hair is an article screaming murder. For Inspector Alan Grant, the case becomes a nightmare, as too many clues and too many motives arise.

User reviews

LibraryThing member BookAngel_a
This is my second Tey mystery and I'm SOOO hooked on these books!
It's a simple murder mystery - woman found dead on a beach, and she happens to be a famous actress with many potential enemies. But Tey makes it so much more. The beauty of Tey's writing is her subtlety. She does not TELL you that things are so, she SHOWS you. She honors our intelligence by letting us put the pieces together on our own. And by the way, this book has a GREAT female lead character (she stole the show from Inspector Grant).… (more)
LibraryThing member smik
The discovery of the body of a popular screen actress washed up on a beach on the southern coast of England sparks an investigation headed by Scotland Yard's top detective, Inspector Alan Grant.
Christine Clay's death hits the headlines, has a global impact, "society" dusts off its mourning blacks in hope of an invitation to her funeral, and yet what comes out is that almost no-one knew who she really was. A clairvoyant claims to have foretold her death, and her estranged brother seems to have disappeared.

This was the second in Josephine Tey's Alan Grant novels. You are probably familiar with other novels such as THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR, and THE DAUGHTER OF TIME.

I must confess to being a bit disappointed in the novel. I found the central threads very difficult to focus on and really thought there was rather too much going on. The writing is quite complex, full of little mental pictures because Tey has a graphic style, full of adjectives and adverbs, and the end effect is to slow the reader down. I found myself constantly re-checking what I had just read. In addition the novel felt a bit over populated with characters, and littered with red herrings and dead ends.

Sometimes we talk about whether a novel has "stood the test of time", and I think perhaps what I found is that A SHILLING FOR CANDLES was written for an audience a little different to today's.
On the back cover of the book is a quote from the Boston Globe: "The unalloyed pleasure of watching a really cultivated mind in action."
Maybe that is the clue to the difference: the complexities in this novel come not from the intermingling of threads as in a modern crime fiction novel, but from the language itself. In general it is really a whodunnit rather than a whydunnit, although of course that side is eventually revealed.

That doesn't make it any less worth reading, but it does mean it is not an easy read.
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LibraryThing member Eurydice
Adapted by Hitchcock as "Young and Innocent" (1937). By no means Tey's best! (By common consent, The Daughter of Time and The Franchise Affair vie for that honor; though I prefer Brat Farrar.) (***)
LibraryThing member SChant
It was ok but the racism and snobbishness were too much for me.
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
Josephine Tey is one of my favorite mystery authors--easily top five. This isn't a favorite book among her works though. Sadly, she only wrote eight. The introduction to the latest editions by Robert Barnard name The Daughter of Time, The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar as the standouts; I'd add Miss Pym Disposes to that list of her best. A Shilling for Candles is only her second book and her two earliest books are indeed imo her weakest, though I like A Shilling for Candles better than her first mystery featuring Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, The Man in the Queue. The strength of most Teys, including this one, isn't in a tidily plotted whodunnit with clues giving you a fair chance at the solution and a particularly clever twist. The introduction points particularly to A Shilling for Candles in that regard as an example, saying that Tey was not interested "in that kind of game."

So what are this novel's particular pleasures? Well, her prose for one. Lively, full of wry insights, humor, an apt way with descriptions. Her characters for another, and in this case I definitely thought this cast was more memorable than in her first Grant novel. There is an odious reporter, an eccentric astrologer, egotistical show business people and the delightful Erica Burgoyne, teen detective, who arguably proves better at the business than Inspector Grant. Grant isn't along Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot or even Lord Peter Wimsey lines. He laments that himself at one point that he's "just a hard-working, well-meaning ordinarily intelligent detective." Barnard accuses Tey of anti-Semitism in his introduction, but doesn't cite examples, and I have to wonder if it's he just doesn't get that Grant isn't meant to be a Holmes or Poirot. I don't think we're to take his beliefs as that of the author. He's fallible. It may be that anti-Jewish lines are excised from the later or American editions, or that I have yet to find them in my reread of Tey with 3 more novels to go. Unless I missed it because it's encoded as "Eastern European" in this book. But I find it telling that in the first two books, every time Grant expresses a prejudice and makes assumptions based upon it, he's proven wrong--and the character of Eastern European origin in this book doesn't fit any negative stereotype. It could be I'm giving Tey too much credit for being subtle. Maybe. But I suspect Barnard doesn't give Tey enough credit.

I think what I found most poignant in this book though was the portrait of the murder victim we can only get to know through others--film actress Christine Clay. What emerges is a very sympathetic portrait, a vivid one both of her and the prices of celebrity.… (more)
LibraryThing member Stewartry
Another excellent example of "not your ordinary mystery novel". A body is discovered on a beach, and the immediate assumption of suicide is soon contradicted by the evidence. (I have to say I'm a little impressed that the article found with the body which indicates murder is never mentioned in anything I've read online about the book (and in fact morphed into something else for the film adaptation (1937's Young and Innocent, said to be Hitchcock's personal favorite among his British films); I'm glad to continue to keep the secret.) The most obvious suspect isn't after all so obvious – and turns up missing – and what for about a minute seemed neat and tidy turns out to be a tangled ball of false confessions, astrology, suspects requiring delicate handling, and wardrobe searches. Alan Grant's presence in this book is somewhere between that in The Franchise Affair – peripheral – and the his greater omnipresence in The Man in the Queue - in addition to his there are many points of view, beautifully handled and rewarding, but he is in the forefront here.

The plot is gripping; the characterizations natural; if the solution to the mystery is not necessarily one that can be worked out by the armchair detective, that isn't really the point of the book anyway – the impression is that A Shilling for Candles wasn't written primarily as a puzzle to solve. It was, I think, written more as a psychological exercise, an exploration of personality and the consequences of celebrity and of being involved in a homicide. There is the contrast of the rather extraordinary ordinary girl, Erica, with the glitter and sparkle and hollowness of the celebrities. And Alan Grant is a star, in all the best senses of the word.

A word I saw used in a summary of one of Miss Tey's other books used the word "excoriating" and it suits here as well. That reference was in regards to the attitude in To Love and Be Wise toward modern writers; here the recipient of the book's scorn is The Public, that seething mindless mass of neediness. The murder victim, Christine, was a star of the first magnitude, and thus even had it been natural her death is not something that could be quietly mourned in private by those closest to her. Her celebrity and the circumstances of her death break it wide open, making both privacy and quiet impossible. Since I read this, Whitney Houston died, and the constant invasion into her family's lives was appalling, down to disruptions of her teenaged daughter's life and, I believe, publication of photos of the nude corpse (see also Marilyn Monroe). I thought the menace of inexcusable paparazzi and the public appetite that allows for them was a more recent development; I honestly don't know if I'm relieved or saddened that it's always been this way.

This disparagement of the Masses put together with the little I know about Josephine Tey's career as Gordon Daviot, very successful playwright, gives me pause. Much of what I know about this aspect of her life is from the novel which uses her as a character, An Expert in Murder, by Nicola Upson; it was not entirely to my taste, but I don't question the research that went into it (though I take everything with a grain of salt, of course, if for no other reason that that I've also read Daughter of Time). If I don't plan to use the book as source material for anything, I will take the setting described as something like accurate: in the story, Daviot's play Richard of Bordeaux is at its height, and there are people who go to see the play over and over. And over. (In Daughter of Time, it is, disarmingly, mentioned that Alan Grant saw it four times.) They sought out the actors and snapped up souvenirs. While Miss Tey/Mr. Daviot might have escaped most of the throng (though for some reason I think the pseudonym was an open secret), she probably had a fair awareness of what it was like for her players, who had no such anonymity. It's sobering to read the following quote with that in mind; Alan has picked up Champneis, Christine Clay's husband, shortly after the funeral, which despite the precautions they tried to take became a circus:

"Those women. I think the end of our greatness as a race must be very near. We came through the war well, but perhaps the effort was too great and left us – epileptic. Great shocks do, sometimes." He was silent for a moment, evidently seeing it all again in his mind's eye. "I've seen machine guns turned on troops in the open – in China – and rebelled against the slaughter. But I would have seen that sub-human mass of hysteria riddled this morning with more joy than I can describe to you. Not because it was – Chris, but because they made me ashamed of being human, of belonging to the same species."

And I think I'll just let that resonate there without further comment.
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LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
when an actress is found drowned, the logical suspect is her house guest who fled. This doesn't seem to fit the situation and finding the motive stirs up a lot of mud. Interesting and kept my attention throughout
LibraryThing member krsball
A great writer who died too young. Her characters are good.
LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
This is the second Alan Grant book I've read and I didn't read them in order, more's the pity for me.

An actress, Christine Clay, has taken a cottage near the ocean to hide out for a while. She is joined by a total stranger to her, Robert Tisdall, who was also looking to get away from life for a while. One morning, Christine turns up dead, drowned in the sea, and Inspector Alan Grant from the Yard is called in by the local constables. He has his eye on Tisdall for doing the crime for various reasons, but his case is solidified when Clay's will is read and Tisdall comes into an inheritance. Hmm. But Grant's got a niggling doubt -- and so sets out to investigate anyone who may have had it in for Christine...and finds that there are more than a few people who would have liked to have seen her dead.

The characters are entertaining but the book is just average. Perhaps this is because it's only the second book of the series. The mystery is good and solid, and there are a number of suspects and red herrings that are thrown out for the reader's consideration, but some of the plot lines seemed a bit confusing at times. The end, truthfully, I saw coming from a long way out so that was sort of off putting. However, many people really enjoyed this one, so it's one you'll have to try yourself. I'd recommend it to fans of Tey, or to fans of Golden-Age mystery, or to readers of British mystery in general.

Overall -- not bad; not one of my favorites by this author but still a fine read.
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LibraryThing member ben_a
The last several weeks have been fallow ones for reading. I have been chewing my way through two big, meaty books (Winter's Tale and War and Human Civilization). Both are excellent, but I haven't been able to summon the motivation to really fly through either of them.

I bought the Tey as a break, and gulped it in two days. As usual with Tey, more notable for the path through than for the resolution.… (more)
LibraryThing member thornton37814
A body is found on a beach. Although it is first thought to be a suicide, the inquest finds evidence that it is murder. The body is that of an actress who had been vacationing in the area. The top suspect manages to get away from the police. There are plenty of other suspects as well. Inspector Grant must investigate each lead, including some that are not very promising, but he is finally able to resolve the mystery. The title of the book comes from a legacy that the actress left to her brother in her will. This is a fun and well-plotted mystery.… (more)
LibraryThing member Figgles
A very enjoyable murder mystery featuring Josephine Tey's imaginative detective Inspector Alan Grant. The body of a young woman is found drowned in an area notorious for suicides, but nothing is as it seems. Once again the emphasis is on character rather than detection, though the solution is better incorporated into the story than in "The Man in the Queue". Lots of really diverting red herrings too! Recommended for fans of Ms Tey.… (more)
LibraryThing member MusicMom41
This is the second novel of six in Tey’s Inspector Alan Grant series. A famous actress has taken refuge incognito in a friend’s beach house. She is discovered to have drowned during her early morning swim. It appears to be an accident but the reader is not surprised when there are suspicious circumstances discovered. Tey is more like Dorothy Sayers than like Agatha Christie in that Tey writes mysteries that are novels rather than puzzles. This story is similar to a “police procedural” in that we follow the working of the Inspector as he puzzles over this crime and comes to discover that there is more than one crime. But unlike most police procedurals, there are many supporting characters with whom we become concerned and interested in learning about. We also learn a little more about Alan Grant. While this is not my favorite of the Tey novels I’ve read (those would be The Daughter of Time, another Alan Grant novel, and Miss Pym Disposes, a crime novel) I enjoyed this book, found it a relaxing, fast read and would highly recommend it to those who like Golden Age mysteries.… (more)
LibraryThing member ParadisePorch
This is the second in the Inspector Alan Grant and, as in the first, the solution to the mystery is a little weak.

I want to love Josephine Tey, and I already own the rest of the Inspector Grant titles (Touchstone softcovers), except that most famous, The Daughter of Time. So I know I will be reading more and, while I enjoy the stories moderately well, I’m hoping for stronger mysteries in future books. 3½ stars

Read this if: you’d enjoy an easy mystery read by a famous author.
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LibraryThing member KimMR

I wish I hadn't left getting better acquainted with Josephine Tey's writing for quite so long. In this novel, Tey's second, Inspector Alan Grant investigates the murder of a famous actress, whose death by drowning had been predicted by a celebrity clairvoyant. In her characteristically elegant prose, Tey not only delivers an interesting piece of Golden Age crime fiction, she also explores the concept of celebrity. That Tey's observations on this particular issue still seem fresh today is both a testament to the stength of the writing and to the fact that some things never change.

Overall, this was a fun read. Alan Grant is a thoughtful and engaging detective, who makes mistakes and sometimes misjudges people and situations in a very realistic way. The secondary characters are also interesting and well-drawn, particularly the wonderful Erica Burgoyne. The mystery at the centre of the novel is engaging enough, with multiple red herrings and a satisfactory resolution. However, the novel does contain multiple instances of the casual anti-semitism which is a recurrent feature of pre-WWII British crime fiction. It is jarring and unpleasant to a contemporary reader, but something which I can generally cope with in this genre.

My enjoyment of this novel was increased by it being a buddy read with my friend Jemidar, who correctly identifed the culprit very early on. Once Jemidar picked the murderer, all Inspector Grant had to do was work out how the murder was committed. A solid 3-1/2 to 4 star read.
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LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
On to A Shilling For Candles. OK, there's a healthy Grant. Interesting - much more a police procedural than either of the others, for obvious reasons. And what a weird murderer and motive! The phrase that makes the title was never really explained, either. Grant's comprehension at the service was rather by-the-way. And absolutely everyone has secrets - why _was_ Marta looking at him like that? And I hope Erica pays attention to Robin eventually, Grant just isn't interested. Lots of beautifully drawn characters (normal for a Tey, of course), interesting story and situation(s), Now I want to read more Teys. And I definitely had not read this one ever before.… (more)
LibraryThing member kathleen586
Excellent mystery.
LibraryThing member Carol420
From the time that a young woman's body is pulled from the surf of a lonely beach in Kent, lives are affected. When it becomes known that the woman was the famous stage and screen actress Christine Clay, the ripple effect nearly drowns the world. I like a mystery that has a wide range of suspects making it harder to solve and this one sure has them aplenty. There’s the likable young playboy who's been staying at her cottage. He seems the "right sort" but his story isn’t very believable. Then we have the songwriter who's reputed to have been her lover lurking in the shadows. Who knows what his motives might have been. The will mentions her next-of-kin, a brother to whom she has left only "a shilling for candles." …hence the name of the novel. This doesn’t sound like a very happy family at all. Of course there’s her husband. Husbands’ are always a good bet for the wife's murder. He’s an aristocrat who dabbles in foreign politics and who has an iron-clad alibi. Or maybe he doesn’t. Inspector Grant of Scotland Yard must sort through it all this and try to figure out if Christine Clay's sudden and violent death was really "written in the stars" I had a lot of fun with this one.… (more)
LibraryThing member Vivl
Strange that I can't find a record of reading The Man in the Queue to compare the rating. Nevertheless, I am almost entirely certain, going on my memory which is shaky even though it wasn't that long ago, I'm sure, that I last reread the first of Tey's mysteries, that this is a significant leap forward in terms of the quality of writing. I was reminded how much I love Tey, and that I really mustn't leave it so long between rereads. She may not be quite at Dorothy L Sayer level of genius, but certainly ranks up there with Marsh (I don't care much for Christie, hence the omission.)

Plot-wise, things could be a tad tighter, however that did not detract appreciably from my overall enjoyment. Particularly good was the characterisation: even fairly insignificant characters were effectively fleshed-out, and I particularly like Erica Burgoyne whose youthful eccentric charm was an utter delight.

As an aside, I have just noticed that Hitchcock made a film extremely loosely based upon this novel in 1937 (Young and Innocent UK and The Girl Was Young US). I wonder what Tey thought of it? He completely changed the plot (including whodunnit), made Erica a beautiful young lady rather than a scruffy albeit spunky adolescent, and left out Inspector Grant! I'm sure it's a fine film, but A Shilling for Candles it ain't!
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LibraryThing member weird_O
[A Shilling for Candles] is the first crime novel published under the Josephine Tey pen name. Oddly, it is the second novel featuring Tey's Inspector Alan Grant. Though not without shortcomings, the story is darn entertaining. Slight but fast-paced.

The lifeless body of a popular singin' and dancin' movie star, Christine Clay, was discovered in the early morning on a thumbnail beach along the English Channel coast. She drowned. Strangely, her death by drowning had been predicted by a well-known astrologer earlier in the year.

But was it accidental? A button tangled in her hair suggested foul play. A young man who'd been staying in her vacation cottage for a couple of days said she had left for an early-morning swim. Curiously, he didn't know who she was, only her first name. Curious also was the fact that he stole her car, though he did return it a day or two later. Suspicious was the revelation that the young man was a beneficiary of her will, she having added him only a couple of days before her death.
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LibraryThing member jkdavies
This is the last of Josephine Tey's that I have read (I started with the wonderful Daughter of Time some 30 years ago); and for me it missed the mark of most of her others too.
It didn't have the brooding atmosphere of The Franchise Affair, or the delicious mystery of Brat Farrar. The sense of place from The Singing Sands wasn't present for me in the balmy south coast cottage. And I struggled to care too much about who killed Christine Clay.
But it had froth and oodles of fun characters (caricatures?) and red herrings aplenty. My only real complaint is that at the end, I still didn't know why the "shilling for candles" was important...
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Early one morning, the body of actress Christine Clay is found on the beach. While it initially appeared to be a drowning, after further investigation the local constabulary chose to call in Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard. Grant initially suspected Robert Tisdall, a young man who shared a cottage with Miss Clay at the time of her death. But as he learned more about Clay's life and career, several potential suspects emerged.

What follows is a bit of a romp across southern England as Grant delves into the case and strives to learn more about each suspect. If I were giving Grant a performance review, I'd tell him to dig a little deeper and not be taken in by red herrings, like the shady character with a criminal past. Come on, anyone who has read at least one mystery knows that guy's not the murderer! But Grant pursued several obvious leads right into investigative cul-de-sacs, only to emerge and tear down another route. When the murderer was finally identified, I could almost hear Grant smack his forehead in astonishment. Though I hadn't figured it out myself, I should have. If Grant had only looked for the "slightly less obvious," he would have cracked this case in no time.

What this novel lacked in suspense, it made up for in fun. Grant is a sympathetic character, and Tey fills this story with a myriad of others who are endearing or comical. This book was a great escape and a welcome break between more "serious" reads.
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LibraryThing member kaitanya64
A wonderfully clever mystery with memorable rounded characters.
LibraryThing member fred_mouse
Not quite a 'cosy' murder mystery, but more a 'tidy' murder mystery. It moves along at a reasonable pace, stepping from one interesting tidbit to the next.

There are a lot of fascinating details that now come across as 'historical', and for that alone it was worth reading. There is the odd detail than never gets referenced again, which I found frustrating -- something that turned up early in the book turned out to be a throw away line, which I think just indicates that more editing would have improved things.… (more)
LibraryThing member amelish
On the one hand, Tey writes with both social conscience and humor, freeing her readers from Christie-induced exhaustion and cringing. On the other hand, *what* is up with the ending? Too much crazy.


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