I first came across Josephine Tey many years ago when I read a book called The Daughter of Time. I remember it as a book that was carefully crafted and that totally captured my imagination just as a picture of Richard III captured the imagination of the main character in the novel. Inspector Alan Grant, confined to hospital bed with a broken leg, is visited by an actress friend who, knowing his fascination with faces, has brought him an envelope full of the faces of historical characters each of whom has a mystery associated with him or her. Grant chooses the face of Richard III; he just doesn’t believe that it looks like the face of a man who could murder his young nephews as they slept in the Tower of London. Thus begins a careful, painstaking investigation of the historical mystery.
I say this is how I remember the book because I’ve either lost, misplaced or loaned my copy some time ago and as I was making up my Christmas wish list, I decided it was high time I replaced it. I’d like to read it again. It was that great! When checking online to see where it might be available, my interest was piqued to learn more about the author.
Josephine Tey was a pseudonym used by a Scottish writer named Elizabeth Mackintosh (1896-1952) who also wrote historical and biblical plays under the alias Gordon Daviot and is still considered one of the most respected mystery writers of all time. I realized that I knew nothing about her and had only ever read the one book written by her.
Elizabeth was an intensely private person who “never gave interviews and avoided being photographed” so there are few photos available and little is known about her personal life. She never married and although she had 2 sisters, all that is really known about her is a series of facts based on a timeline of career and places of residence.
After losing a young man in WWI, Elizabeth taught physical education in England and only returned home to Inverness to care for her ailing father after the death of her mother in 1926. She had often turned to writing for pleasure but now she began to publish work beginning with poetry and stories in newspapers and literary magazines. She created Inspector Alan Grant for her first published novel, The Man in the Queue, and later he appeared in 4 more novels. Her two most successful novels, The Franchise Affair and Bratt Farrar were adapted for stage, screen, and radio and the former, along with A Shilling for Candles, were made into movies.
With her playwrighting, Elizabeth met Sir John Gielgud who not only directed and starred in her play Richard of Bordeaux but also became a good friend and while she wrote many plays, only four were ever produced. When she died in 1952 at the age of 55, her friends were shocked. She apparently had known for a year that she was ill and had told no-one. In dying, as in life, she remained fiercely reserved.
What an intriguing character! As coincidence would have it, I had just decided I would try to get more of her books, when I was browsing in Giant Tiger (someone has at least partially reorganized the book bin so that the spines are face up; perhaps they read my blog) and I found Brat Farrar! It is now at the top of my pile (I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever get to Game of Thrones!) and I will devour it as soon as I’m finished the two books I’m reading now. More about them and Brat Farrar later.