A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey

Josephine Tey
A Shilling for Candles

I love Josephine Tey books, I wish there were more of them and I particularly love Inspector Grant. However, I keep wondering if I’ve missed something with this book, as it just didn't seem as strong as her others and didn’t grab me quite as much and there was also no surprising and memorable Tey twist at the end.

A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback

I love Josephine Tey books, I wish there were more of them and I particularly love Inspector Grant. However, I keep wondering if I’ve missed something with this book, as it just didn’t seem as strong as her others and didn’t grab me quite as much and there was also no surprising and memorable Tey twist at the end. 

A body is found drowned and it is discovered she was film star, Christine Clay, who was staying in the countryside anonymously. She was found drowned with a button in her hair, which is presumed to have come from the coat of the murderer. The main murder suspect is poverty-stricken Robert, who is a hitch-hiker Christine picked up and offered shelter to, as he followed her to the beach when she went swimming and stole her car which he then brought back, but he can’t produce the coat he was wearing at the time so can’t prove it’s not missing a button. Inspector Grant seems to like Robert however, as he helps him get a job as a waiter and treats him with respect allowing him to get changed out of his waiter’s uniform when he comes to arrest him. However, Robert escapes arrest and goes on the run. 

Christine Clay seems a very mysterious and secretive lady, and I sense this book is going to be more about discovering the puzzles in her life rather than discovering the murderer, though I am sure one leads to the other. Christine originally used to work in a Nottingham lace factory, but climbed up and up the social ladder to be a film star. She was friendly with others but not over-friendly, and she wanted time alone so came anonymously to this quiet village without telling her friends or colleagues. She is married, but they both have busy lives and spend a lot of time apart. A colleague, Jason Harmer, determinedly searched her out and found her in this village and claimed they were close friends, though she obviously didn’t choose to tell him where she was. She felt sorry for hitch-hiker Robert Stannaway/Tisdall who she picked up near the village, and told him he could stay with her and then also added him to her will. Her will is also quite mysterious as she left ‘a shilling for candles’ to a brother who no-one, including her husband, had ever heard of before, and this particularly intrigues Grant. 

The Chief Constable’s daughter, Erica, takes an unexpected interest in Robert and brings him supplies while he’s on the run and conceals his whereabouts, even putting herself in danger to try and find a tramp who has Robert’s coat as she thinks the coat proves his innocence as it has no button missing. 

The murderer turns out to be one of Christine’s friends, Lydia, who is a keen fortune-teller, and who seems to have killed Christine purely because she ‘foretold’ she would die and wanted to be shown as right in this prediction (a strange motive!), and Lydia loses her mind at the end. This murderer solution seems a bit obscure and unlikely to be guessed at by the reader. The mystery with the brother and the shilling peters out a bit too, as the brother is a bad lot and treated Christine unfairly when they were children so she left him the shilling to make this point, he is now a conman and is found pretending to be a monk plotting to take over power from the Prior, which results in a chase scene with Grant trying to catch the brother. There is also suspicion about Christine’s husband’s movements the night of her murder, and it turns out he and Jason were helping a refugee escape from his country to ensure his power (I imagine we’re supposed to recognise this refugee’s name, as not much explanation is given about him, but I don’t know his name so this added to more confusion with the book). 

I love this description of Grant, he sounds like such a wonderful man, ‘Grant smiled at him: the smile that made Grant’s subordinates work their fingers to the bone for him’. I also love Grant’s mutterings about himself, “What it was to have someone inside you checking up your motives for everything you did or thought” and how it shows how genuine he is with a conscience and morals and worries. 

As I say, perhaps I missed something with this book as it surprised me it wasn’t better and I’m happier to believe this was something lacking in me rather than that Tey had written a poor book. I must re-read it to see.

A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback

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