A Shilling For Candles: “It was a little after seven on a summer morning, and William Potticary was taking his accustomed way over the short down grass of the clifftop.”
A woman is found drowned in the Channel near Westover, and questions abound as to the circumstances. At first, her death is a suspected accident or suicide but when the police discover her torn fingernails and a black button torn from a man’s coat entangled in her hair, murder is apparent. The woman is discovered to be Christine Clay, a famous actress, and Inspector Grant is soon called to investigate the case.
Unbeknownst to most of her friends, the actress had been hiding away at a cottage called The Briars where she had taken in and lodged a rather unassuming young man, Robert Tisdall, who was down on his luck and appears to be the actress’s killer. But is he really the murderer? His story of why he was in the vicinity of her death does not seem plausible, and a recent change by Clay to her will, leaving him part of her estate, gives Tisdall the most apparent motive. Grant moves in, but when Tisdall escapes arrest, he has one cheerleader who believes in his innocence, the Chief Constable’s spunky and irrepressible teenage daughter, Erica Burgoyne. Will her interference do more harm than good and with Tisdall’s prolonged disappearance, the police suspect that he has become a victim himself.
A myriad of acting personages populate the scenes including an assertive and impertinent reporter who is ferreting out information, yet was too close to the victim; a overly dramatic astrologist who had predicted the murder and more importantly, an unknown brother is discovered by a bequest in Clay’s will that reads, “a shilling for candles.” Suspects and clues lead Grant on an often confusing trail and one wonders where it will all lead, a perplexing conundrum until the end.
I do love Inspector Grant, as he is not your usual “smarter-than-everyone” detective, but a real character who can be fooled, perplexed and led astray. Yet it is more his perseverance and ability to adjust to all possibilities that allows him to ferret out the murder in the end. However as a reader, once again to deduct the killer is nearly impossible as Tey holds all the cards, the revelation only becoming clear at the end.
My favourite character was the Chief Inspector’s daughter, Erica Burgoyne, who had a refreshingly buoyant yet sometimes startlingly direct personality and was certainly one to take matters at hand and get to the bottom of whatever she chose to take on. I wish she had more of a part but while she did take the reigns in the story for awhile, she dropped out part way through, as Grant’s movements took more of the front stage.
While I enjoyed this Tey mystery, it wasn’t as engrossing as The Man in the Queue. The pacing was somewhat inconsistent, as the story switched between the point of view of different characters and for some of the story, Inspector Grant was completely absent. And while Tey drew the characters from her experience in cinema during the performance of her play Richard of Bourdeaux and from her work as a contract writer in Hollywood, certain characters appeared either overdrawn or simply not that interesting to me. However, even with these flaws, Tey is such a consummate writer that you can’t fail to appreciate all aspects of her writing. The next published Tey is The Franchise Affair which I know comes recommended by some of you; I’m looking forward to it!