Scottish Island Fiction Mystery Fiction
This is Josephine Tey’s last novel, discovered in her papers after her death, and published posthumously. She is probably better know for her 1951 novel THE DAUGHTER OF TIME, a book that has graced a number of top ten mystery novel lists in the past sixty-five years not to mention some required reading lists for college courses (a friend of mine took such a course). I read that novel over thirty years ago and, although I don’t agree with all the conclusions set forth in that book, I think it did open my eyes to the way history is recorded.
But back to THE SINGING SANDS. This is the oldest book I’ve included in my “Scottish Island” series but I think it has a lot to offer to anyone who enjoys reading novels about Scottish Islands. Only part of the book takes place on the fictional island of Cladda but the character has lots to say about the effects of visiting the Island.
The novel opens with Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard enduring the overnight train ride to the Scottish Highlands. I say “enduring” because Inspector Grant is suffering from nervous disorders, including claustrophobia, and the small, enclosed sleeper car is agonizing for him. He departs from the train, after a sleepless night, only to catch the porter trying to wake another passenger; it’s not going to happen – the man is dead. Later Grant realizes that he has somehow obtained a newspaper belonging to the dead man and it has a wee poem scribbled in the margins. The poem intrigues him – so much so that he begins to obsess about it when he is supposed to be enjoying rest and relaxation with his cousin’s family. The poem leads him im many directions as he tries to discover more about the dead man on the train.
The mystery is intriguing but there are other angles of this book that are also interesting. Mental health issues are served up 1951 style. He is on sabatical on the orders of his physician yet it is actually painful when he berates himself for being so “weak.” His boss is not a supportive man but fortunately his family are quite supportive.
He spends some time on a Scottish Island and fans of these islands will enjoy his reaction to his temporary residence. That’s all I will say.
An excellent novel- even after 65 years.
The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey, 1952, Random House, 246 pages
I need to quickly add something because I forgot to include Inspector Grant’s theory on vanity; “Vanity. The first requisite in wrong doing. The constant factor in the criminal mind.” p. 195
“When you say vanity, you are thinking of the kind that admires itself in mirrors and buys things to deck itself out in. But that is merely personal conceit. Real vanity is quite different. A matter not of person but of personality. Vanity says “I must have this because I am me”. It is a frightening thing because it is incurable. You can never convince Vanity that anyone else is of the slightest importance; he just doesn’t understand what you are talking about. He will kill a person rather than be put to the inconvenience of doing a six months’ stretch”. p.200
Vanity – an interesting perspective.