Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

Josephine Tey
Miss Pym Disposes

This is a fascinating and very clever book. And I know this will sound strange after that praise, but nothing mysterious or sinister happens until you get quite far into the book, I kept wondering and waiting for who would be killed and by whom. And then the crime happens, and there’s a twist and then another twist! Tey is so clever and restrained and it’s so unusually done making it all happen at the end, I think this constantly puts the reader on high alert wondering what disaster is going to happen and constantly looking for clues and menace. I was just blown away by how clever this book is and what a wonderful writer she was.

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback

This is a fascinating and very clever book. And I know this will sound strange after that praise, but nothing mysterious or sinister happens until you get quite far into the book, I kept wondering and waiting for who would be killed and by whom. And then the crime happens, and there’s a twist and then another twist! Tey is so clever and restrained and it’s so unusually done making it all happen at the end, I think this constantly puts the reader on high alert wondering what disaster is going to happen and constantly looking for clues and menace. I was just blown away by how clever this book is and what a wonderful writer she was.

Even though I said nothing sinister happens until quite far into the book, there is somehow, and very cleverly, a faint feeling of menace throughout the book, nothing to put your finger on and I did at times think I may just be imagining it because it’s a Tey book, but I’m sure it’s there and it’s her supremely clever writing. One example is with the seemingly innocent sentence of “Shall I warn them both, Miss Hodge?”. But then the word ‘warn?’ is added in brackets in order to signify Miss Pym’s puzzlement of the word used and the implication that there is something here she doesn’t fully grasp, so even though it is of no great importance it seems to hint at some kind of consensus or understanding that she is not part of something, a hint of something for her to possibly be suspicious of. There is also an interesting mix of pupils at the college, and maybe the slight feeling of menace felt is because they all seem on the surface to get on, but you would expect, and I think Miss Pym expects, there to be jealousies and competition and spitefulness, so it begins to look like a false screen with possible menace under the surface. And the Principal’s intensity and devotion to the college could also be where the faint sense of menace lays, ie would she literally do anything for the good of the college? But all this supposed menace might just have been because I was waiting for something to happen and looking everywhere for where it might come from!

Throughout the book, life at the college is so well written that I could picture it all very clearly. And I loved the description of the tea shop in the nearby village, it sounds like such a heavenly place. The majority of the book is us getting to know and care about the characters and learning about life at the college, as Miss Pym herself is learning about life there. 

And then you reach nearly the end of the book and the crime finally happens, and oh wow! This book, and Tey’s writing, and mind, is just amazing! The Principal has offered an elite vacancy not to Innes, the highest achiever who everyone presumed would get it, but to Rouse, an average inferior person who has achieved what she has achieved by suspected dishonesty, and then an accident is staged that is designed to injure Rouse thereby ensuring she cannot take up the vacancy and that it is offered to Innes, but the accident actually kills Rouse. And Miss Pym has evidence that she believes shows that Innes was the one who staged the accident. 

The whole book is actually about morality, and right and wrong, and that it often isn’t as clear as simply right and wrong, there are still far-reaching consequences and innocent people hurt when the ‘right’ action is followed. We see Miss Pym desperately trying to decide whether to tell what she knows about the crime and culprit, or not. She feels that Innes didn’t mean for Rouse to die and that if she tells what she knows then Innes’ life will be ruined as she’ll be imprisoned, her parents’ lives will be ruined (although Miss Pym does wonder if their bringing up of Innes and their formation of her character contributed to this course of action, in which case do they deserve to be punished?), the college’s name and reputation will be ruined, as will the name and reputation of her friend the Principal. And she feels that Innes deserved the elite vacancy in the first place, that her actions hadn’t given her something she hadn’t earned, so it then seems possibly like the justice of the law would take away the justice of Innes having that elite vacancy. She is also aware of the added moral complication that Rouse didn’t deserve the elite vacancy, so possibly it’s almost ‘right’ and ‘just’ that this happened. And she’s aware that Innes is a nice kind popular person, and Rouse wasn’t, and Innes now has to live with this on her conscience and will probably never be happy again or able to enjoy the elite vacancy, so is the thought that Innes will be forever punishing herself actually justice enough so the law needn’t be brought into it too? And she also wonders if maybe the whole thing was not actually Innes’ fault but the Principal’s fault for making the poor decision in the first place of choosing Rouse over Innes, so then should Innes pay so hugely for someone else’s error, she did respond to this error but didn’t cause the error the first place. However, Miss Pym is also aware that if she conceals the evidence and doesn’t tell what she knows, then she is then committing a criminal act that she has to live with. It really is an agonising choice and reminds us that often the simple right course is in reality not that simple, and Tey makes the reader agonise along with Miss Pym. It’s such a dilemma, and such clever writing too as the reader can empathise with Miss Pym’s dilemma and puzzle along with her which course to take. Miss Pym wishes this decision hadn’t fallen to her, and then wonders if God disposed of the decision in this way, giving it to her, as He knew she would give it the deliberation it deserved and try to make the right and fair decision.. 

Miss Pym decides in the end to reveal the truth, but she decides to tell Innes first that she is doing this. However, Innes causes her to change her mind by promising to atone for what has happened and to sacrifice the enjoyments of her life as penance for Rouse’s life. This is an attractive idea to Miss Pym, and another interesting dilemma, in that whether someone’s life devoted to the care of others would be more profitable than a life in prison or them being hanged. And Innes seems genuine in this promise, she only breaks down in tears when Miss Pym has said she won’t tell, she didn’t cry before in order to appeal to Miss Pym’s good nature or to try and influence her. 

And then, omg, the huge twist that just left me reeling and still reeling now! It wasn’t actually Innes who staged the accident, it was Beau (Innes’ best friend) done in the name of justice so Innes gets the elite vacancy, and it was done without Innes’ knowledge!!! And Innes suspected Beau did this, so her promise of atonement to Miss Pym is because Rouse died for her benefit but not because she engineered the death herself. Obviously I had to then immediately look back in the book to re-read Innes’ and Miss Pym’s conversation again, and Innes indeed doesn’t actually say she committed the crime. How beautifully Tey has led the reader to this assumption, what an amazing writer! I’m not even sure whether Innes realised that Miss Pym thought that she (Innes) did the crime or if she just presumed Miss Pym knew that it was Beau, they were clearly speaking at cross purposes throughout. Re-reading their conversation, I realise Innes never says the words ‘I did it’ and Miss Pym never says the words ‘you did it’. And all Miss Pym’s (and the reader’s) theorising about justice and right and wrong doesn’t apply to Beau as it did to Innes, as Beau wouldn’t be sorry for what she’d done or punish herself forever or try to make atonement like Innes would have. And it’s interesting to consider if Innes ever asked Beau about it and told her she knew what she’d done. And so clever the twist that all Miss Pym’s theorising about justice regarding Innes was also being done by Innes regarding Beau, both were trying to decide if they should tell or not. 

It’s such a subtle book and difficult to describe to someone really, as nothing much happens in the majority of the book and it seems quite an ordinary and everyday story, which I’m sure some would even describe as dull (although they’d be mistaken), and then you’re suddenly dealt this huge blow and are putting yourself in Miss Pym’s place and thinking about how you’d act. Tey’s subtlety and restraint and judgment and controlled pace of writing is sublime, another author would tackle this with noise and drama and not be able to hold back like she does. I think this might be Tey’s finest and most powerful book, and yet its power is concealed within the least amount of action! The title of the book had always puzzled me wondering what Miss Pym was to dispose of (I’d originally presumed she was the killer disposing of the body!), is it whether she disposes of the evidence, or does it mean the disposing of the decision with all her weighty thinking about right and wrong and justice?

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback

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