I previously had linked to Morten Lauridsin's choral work O Magnum Mysterium. Here is another soul-subduing piece written for James Agee's poem, "Sure on this Shining Night."
The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Every time I read a book by Josephine Tey I think, "This is my favorite mystery by Tey!" Well, this one so far is my favorite.
Inspector Alan Grant is on leave due to burn out and an unexpected development of claustrophobia due to work stress. He is traveling by train to Scotland where he plans to relax with a cousin's family and fish. In his compartment on the train he fights a burning desire to open the door to escape an ever growing feeling of strangulation.
Finally, he comes to his stop and walks down the train aisle to leave. He passes another compartment to see the porter shaking a man to rouse him and tell him he needs to leave.
Grant enters the compartment straightens the man up and asks the porter, "Don't you recognize a dead man when you see one?" Then he leaves the sputtering porter to call the police (he's on vacation!) and goes to a restaurant in town for lunch. He opens the paper he carried out with him from the train to find a strange poem.
"The beasts that talk
The streams that stand,
The stones that walk,
The singing sand,
That guard the way
Grant realizes this is the paper that the dead man had under his arm. Without thinking he had picked it up while taking the dead man out of the clutches of the porter.
What was supposed to be a vacation turns out to be a quest to solve a mystery.
As usual, Tey's stories are interesting for their psychological portrait of the different characters and all of us Tey fans enjoy Inspector Grant. Not that he shows up in predictable ways in her stories. None of Tey's stories follow a formula which keep the reader guessing as to the outcome.
Unlike Agatha Christie, whose characters I find often flat and unsympathetic (sorry Christie fans), Tey draws characters that are overall nice, normal people. Not perfect but not un-dimensionally ugly. I like Tey's people. With the exception of Hercule Pierrot, I find it hard to care about any of Christie's.
Not to say that the reason Tey is good is because Christie is bad, but I guess we find it hard not to create a point of reference. Tey's stories would be wonderful even if Miss Marple, Hercule Pierrot or Mr. and Mrs.Beresford never existed.
I just find reading Tey to be a light-hearted and even touching experience. Her characters are living and breathing and have blood in their veins, not ice.
And she flat out writes a darn good mystery.
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