"Literary sherry parties were not Alan Grant's cup of tea. But when the Scotland Yard Inspector arrived to pick up actress Marta Hallard for dinner, he was struck by the handsome young American photographer, Leslie Searle. Author Lavinia Fitch was sure her guest "must have been something very wicked in ancient Greece," and the art colony at Salcott St. Mary would have agreed." -- Back cover.
Between the party and DI Grant's arrival at Lavinia Fitch's country estate we are treated to a classic British weekend in the country. We meet the aliens--the artists who have taken up residence in sleepy Salcott St. Mary--and the locals, all of whom are deliciously eccentric or cranky, quirky or curmudgeonly, and all of whom are both drawn to and repulsed from Leslie Searle.
So when he comes up missing, well, it could have been anyone who caused his disappearance. DI Grant, always cool and elegant, investigates methodically, but despite his best efforts he is baffled. The answer, when it comes, does so in a flash of insight, and is surprising and a bit shocking.
Josephine Tey writes in a spare, lyrical style, perfectly suited to luscious description of everything from the English country side (often somewhat ironically distilled through the consciousness of one or another of her characters) to the disarray that lurks in most human minds. To Love and Be Wise is a great whodunit and a great foray into the the human psyche, why we do what we do and how we understand and interpret it, as well.
Josephine Tey's talent as a mystery novelist is apparent in this story. She had a gift for illustrating character with an economy of words, exposing a person's essence with precise and succinct detail. The dialog is witty and not clichéd. This book is peopled with writers of various sorts of literature, from popular romance novels to serious social commentary, and I particularly enjoyed Tey's detached observations on writing and writers.
Tey didn't always follow the conventions for mystery novels, and she does hold some information back. The reader might be told that Grant has discovered something important, but Tey doesn't tell you what that something is until she is ready for you to know. Thus, I was pleased when I noticed a clue before Grant did, and was able to figure out some aspects of the mystery before he worked it out in the novel!
Lavinia Fitch actually has a prominent role in this novel, as she plays hostess to American photographer Leslie Searle. Inspector Alan Grant meets the "beautiful young man" briefly at a party. Weeks later he'll be investigating Searle's disappearance and possible murder. Lavinia says of Searle she's "sure that he was something very wicked in Ancient Greece" and her guest has an unsettling effect on all around him.
Her Inspector Alan Grant has rather grown on me through the novels. He's no Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. He's not at all flashy or eccentric and his strong suit isn't brilliant deductions, but what his superior calls "flair." In other words, he's an intuitive detective--sometimes his gut doesn't match his head, and sometimes his gut and his prejudices lead him wrong. He's about the most fallible detective protagonist I've ever read.
I love Tey's style--spare, lyrical and witty and her characters are delightfully individualized. Even though I don't think this is one of her best novels, it may be her best mystery. Tey tends not to care much about devising perfect little puzzle pieces. She certainly plays fair this time--the clues are all there, even if very quietly dropped in, and I do remember the twist as a surprise first time reading, which makes for a delicious denouement.
In To Love and Be Wise, Inspector Alan Grant introduces a charismatic, magnetic young American man by the name of Leslie Searle to famed author Lavinia Fitch at a literary party in London. Later on, Grant is called to Ms. Fitch's home in the artist colony of Salcott St. Mary to investigate Leslie Searle's disappearance.
Tey writes mysteries for people like me who don't read mysteries. Her prose is smart and tight, the dialogue wonderfully believable and the characters populating her narratives are rich, vibrant and authentic. They are people you've known, or would like to know. Her main protagonist, Inspector Alan Grant has none of the eccentricities that plague many mystery detectives. He is fluid, honest, sagacious and unpretentious, not to mention totally charming. Josephine Tey's talent and skill lie in her brilliant storytelling and characterization. If you haven't yet read Josephine Tey's witty and sophisticated mysteries, you are in for a treat.
This is a slim volume with a thin plot by any standards. My small format paperback version, with moderately large font, ran a scant 207 pages. On the strength of so many glowing reviews for Tey's works in general, I picked up this one with high hopes that it would wash away the bad taste left by the poor writing in a number of the books I've read recently. I selected it at random from a batch of old paperbacks I recently entered into my LibraryThing catalog prior to boxing them up for temporary storage. The writing style didn't disappoint, but the plot and character development did, sadly.
I have to warn any readers of this review that the cover art of my version of the book contained a 'spoiler'. I began my reading already aware of the main trick, hook, gimmick, device, whatever you want to call it, that drove the plot. Almost certainly that colored my critical assessment of Tey's development of the plot. Even without this 'handicap' to objective evaluation, I think I would have found the basic premise of the plot unbelievable, or at least have found Tey's treatment of it unconvincing. I can't give specific details without violating book review etiquette and giving away too much.
The reader learns on the first page that the story will involve a recurring character in Tey's mysteries, Inspector Alan Grant. His well-established friendship with a prominent stage actress, Marta Hallard, is the plot device that serves multiple functions in the story. It brings Grant to a book party where he meets the character around whom the central mystery revolves, a young American photographer, Leslie Searle, who comes to the party in order to manufacture an introduction into an extended family that includes the feted author and her radio broadcasting celebrity nephew. The Hallard connection also provides a series of clues arising from Marta's knowledge of past and present relationships among the characters; a convenient base for Grant in the village in which the mysterious 'situation' occurs; and the all-important sounding board for Inspector Grant to use for his musings, so that the reader can be made privy to them. The fact that Grant has actually met Searle is an important aspect of the plot.
Throughout the book Searle is consistently described as being gob-stoppingly beautiful for a man (my phrase, not Tey's), and in a way that people find puzzling and disconcerting. Even to the point of making some of the characters suspicious, and of engendering instant hatred in one case. Searle is a man on a mission, and the first step is for him to gain a social acquaintance with the extended family of Lavinia Fitch (author), her widowed sister, Emma Garrowby, Emma's step-daughter Liz, who is Lavinia's secretary, and Lavinia's nephew (son of her other sister), Walter Whitmore, who is a radio celebrity and is engaged to Liz. This family occupies a great pile of a house called Trimmings in a small artist's colony, Salcott St. Mary. Searle gets himself invited to Trimmings for the weekend on the slim pretext of being friends with someone whom Walter knows. He ends up staying, and staying, and staying...until he mysteriously disappears mere hours after a rather public 'spat' with Walter in the local public house. In the interim he has ever-so-politely managed to twit, snub, insult, and otherwise alienate nearly every member of the artistic community and the family who is hosting him except one. He is seen to be very sympatico with the loveable Liz. So much so that her engagement to Walter might be threatened.
When Inspector Grant is called in, no one knows for sure whether Scotland Yard is investigating an accidental drowning, a murder, a suicide, a kidnapping, a case of amnesia, or a deliberate departure by Searle. Grant smells a rat, suspects some sleight of hand on Searle's part, and spends the rest of the book ruling out other possibilities and proving the one he's satisfied with. None of the suspects for murder, if there was a murder, convince Grant, much less the reader. Tey provides him with a Eureka! moment, courtesy of chance bits of information that come his way that serve to explain other puzzling bits that arise from his investigations. The story rushes to its conclusion in the final 20 pages, or there abouts. I can imagine that the reaction of many readers can be summed up as "Huh!"
I set the book aside with a general feeling of dissatisfaction. As mentioned earlier, the basic premise was never convincing to me. I didn't like any of the characters. I didn't much care what the final explanation was in terms of motivations of those characters. Though I've been critical of elements of the plot and execution, there is a spare elegance to Tey's style, and in this instance at least, an economy of 'agents' that propel the plot. Both provide welcome relief from all the frilly, overly explicative prose of many mystery writers. I'll probably read at least one more of Josephine Tey's novels. Thousands, even millions of her fans can't all be wrong. Maybe this was just the worst of the small bunch of her works. And even with all the negatives brought out in my review, I still found the book more worth my time and effort than many modern mysteries.
someday I'd like to have the matched set.
The story: A disconcertingly beautiful young man becomes part of the lives of an extended family – and then disappears. He leaves behind amidst the bewilderment a girl who loves him despite herself, her fiancé who is all at once a suspect in foul play of some sort in the disappearance, and a detective (Alan Grant, of course) intensely frustrated by a puzzle whose solution evades him. I don't recall ever reading this before (though given my memory that means little), and so the basic effect of having new Josephine Tey to read is a wonderful thing.
I enjoyed the exploration of the effect an extravagantly attractive man has on those he meets. Beauty is one of those attributes, like wealth or height or curly hair, which many who lack it envy, and which is, sometimes at least, not all it's cracked up to be. This gorgeous creature Leslie Searles attracts attention, including from DI Alan Grant – and he has learned over a lifetime of it to manipulate it, to some degree.
I liked that there is no implication that for the most part the attention is sexual in nature. I have the feeling that in a book written more recently the instant interest Alan shows in him would be hedged about with explanation and defense. Here, it is quite simply that he is something extraordinary, and his entrance into a room is something like the arrival of a bird of paradise: even if you're not a bird lover, you have to take notice of the sheer extravagant splendor.
The vicar of the village where he roosts for a lengthy visit states his belief that Searles is a demon in disguise – it's the only explanation for his beauty, and for the unsettling effect he has on everyone. He is disconcerting. It also nicely explains his so-abrupt disappearance as he and a comrade (Walter Whitmore, a Thoreau-wannabe who mellifluously reads nature essays on the radio) canoe down the river with plans to turn the adventure into a book.
"But – but Walter Whitmore!" Grant said. "There is something inherently absurd about it, you know. What would that lover of little bunnies have to do with murder?"
"You've been in the Force long enough to know that it is just those lovers of little bunnies that commit murder," his chief said snappily.
But the demon theory is not an explanation the police are prepared to carry on with, however it appeals to Alan Grant, and he irritably steps up the search when locals' attempts to find Leslie fail. If it were only that Leslie is missing, the initial sweeps might be held sufficient – after all, an adult may abscond with himself as he pleases. But the circumstances under which he vanished are the problem: he was seen to bait the "bunny-lover" Whitmore at a pub the night before his disappearance was noticed – again, by Walter Whitmore. Walter, through a native self-confidence or naïveté, is ready and willing to discuss the circumstances, including those that lead to conclusions that his fiancée was quite possibly falling in love with Leslie and that Walter was well aware of the possibility, seemingly never adding the two and the two to make the four: he is a very real suspect.
He's also a very real character, almost of Ted Baxter ilk: not a bad man, or a stupid one, really – just egocentric and unexpectedly oblivious. His fiancée, Liz, is lovely, an ordinary sort of a woman who knows Walter's shortcomings and cares for him anyway, but still finds herself swept away by the combination of stunning good looks and an equally deadly combination of intelligence and humor that provides her with conversation she can never have with Walter. Leslie is more reserved; the short time he is in the picture presents a vivid image of his personality, but as Alan finds it's not that easy to get a handle on exactly who he was; part of it, though, is a little illumination of what it's like to live inside that spotlight, to be that bird of paradise, inspiring love and hatred and all sorts of other strong emotion simply by virtue of looking as he looks. Minor characters are, as always, wonderful portraits in miniature; secondary characters – including a deeper acquaintance with Marta Hallard – are, as always, unique and genuine; and Alan Grant, as always, is magnificent.
The mystery is, as is typical with Josephine Tey, not really one which is conducive to solution by the armchair detective. I want to say I guessed it, but that could just be internal Tonypandy. But, as is typical with Tey, the mystery isn't the point. It's just a hook – a clever and engaging hook – on which to hang an exploration of personalities. This must drive some mystery buffs straight up a wall. Since I read for character and quality of writing before anything else, I'm perfectly happy. I might have mentioned it in other reviews: I adore Josephine Tey.
Since it's already 2/3rds of the way through the series, Grant is relatively well established as a character. He has his favourite right hand (police) man to bounce ideas off - similar to Alleyn's Brer Fox - but Williams is missing for most of the book on another case. Grant therefore comes to rely on the famous actress Marta, who he finds to be insightful and intelligent in her own way and a good foil (and a good cook!).
American photographer Leslie Searle, he of the unusual and stunning good looks, suddenly arrives in Town, quickly becomes part of the lives of an extended family, and just as suddenly disappears, leaving everyone bewildered and at a loss. Grant, who has met Searle once, previously, is confronted with the disappearance of Searle whilst out on a camping research trip in Oxford. His companion, Walter Whitmore, is engaged to Liz, and there seems to be a rapid connection between Liz and Leslie that makes Walter jealous. Leslie's disappearance makes Walter the Prime Suspect, but there's one major problem: there's no body and no real sign that Leslie simply hasn't walked off into the night of his own accord. So has there really been a crime?
The ending is a novel take on a standard disappearance mystery, and I wont go further for spoilers. Most of the secondary characters are reasonably fleshed out for such a short book (sub 300 pages).
If I'm honest, this didnt grab me in the same way that my first Ngaio Marsh book did - another series that I started part way through the series. Allingham's stories about Albert Campion run a quick second after Rodney Alleyn books. Whilst a decent, tight story, there's nothing (on this book alone) to make Tey join the list. I have another book in the series that might (or might not) help.
(On the other hand -- and this is surely the most obscure literary footnote you will read this year -- there are several flattering references to a comic actor named Danny Minsky, who does not however actually appear in the story. The first thumbnail description shouts "Danny Kaye"; and Danny Kaye was born Daniel Kaminsky! His Wikipedia page says Kaye made an enormous hit with the British public, from the Royal Family on down, when he played London in 1948. This book was published in 1950.)
The cast of characters sparkles. The celebrities are all eccentric in their own little ways. Some of them make you laugh, some of them make you shake your head, and some just make you want to slap them. The excellent working relationship of Grant and the trusty Detective Sergeant Williams is further explained. And that disappearance of Leslie Searle is truly puzzling-- although Tey plants a vital clue to its solution at the very beginning of the story.
More than anything else-- especially with Williams being pulled away to conclude a case in London-- the pace is slow and deliberate, as though Grant is taking a leisurely stroll through the suspect pool and trying the noose on each of them for size. And as he's sizing them up, the reader is allowed to do much the same. I found To Love and Be Wise quite refreshing. No electronics to fuss with. No serial killers to be in fear of. Just a very real puzzle: what on earth really happened to Leslie Searle? And... why didn't I pay more attention to that clue at the very beginning of the book? At the rate I'm going, I may actually become a fan of these classic mysteries!
The mystery of this one was okay and I didn't figure out whodunnit, but the best part is the cast of characters. A dull radio announcer, a weaselly petty criminal, a successful novelist who is inappropriately angry, a sidekick who is just as astute as Grant. It's not my favorite Tey but it's still pretty good.
Brilliantly written novel about an English village and the crazies who live there.
Two words come to mind when I think of Josephine Tey - intelligent and elegant. She never under-estimates her readers, she neither spoon-feeds us nor lead us by the hand into her complex stories. The mysteries are used to this writers’ best advantage, that of exploring characters. Major or minor, her characters are well developed, unique and real. There is a sophistication to her books that never condecends it simply adds to the style.
To Love and Be Wise, with it’s detailed character development and mostly believable plot twists ensures that this book still stands up well even 60 plus years after publication. I enjoy the mysteries of Josephine Tey, but for me it’s the quality of the writing that is the main draw. There is a genuine effortlessness and great style to her writing that makes for very pleasurable reading.