That's right. If you recall my review of The Daughter of Time, I very much enjoyed Tey's work on a fictional detective trying to determine whether or not Richard III murdered the princes in the tower. And it was actually the fault of that book that I got this one. Having run down to our library to pick up Daughter of Time for a family read-aloud, I happened to see The Man in the Queue sitting all by itself as the only other representative of Tey's works. Being a very compassionate individual, I brought it home with me so that it wouldn't get despondent, and gave it a read-through on Sunday.
" 'Ere, I'll thank you to stop shoving. Can't a lady be allowed to take out her purse without everyone losing their manners?"
But the man she addressed took no notice. His head was sunk on his chest. Only the top of his soft hat met her beady indignant gaze. She snorted, and moving away from him to face the box office squarely laid down the money she had been searching for. And as she did so the man sank slowly to his knees, so that those behind almost fell over him, stayed like that for a moment, and then keeled still more slowly over on his face. ~The Man in the Queue, Chapter One
When a man falls over dead in the tightly packed London queue of Ray Marcable's last theatre performance, Inspector Alan Grant sets his powers of deduction on finding the murderer. A murderer of course there is; the thin silver stiletto proves that. But aside from this interesting weapon (which yields up no fingerprints) the victim has no identifying marks. Just a handkerchief, some loose change, and an army-issued revolver in his pocket from the last war. When Grant finds that the fingerprints on the revolver don't correspond with the fingerprints of the dead man, he is puzzled. Certainly murdering someone in a crowded line for the theatre isn't difficult. But for the dead man to have someone else's revolver in his pocket, and the tags ripped out of his clothing to prevent identification--that's a different matter entirely.
At least they know that the murderer has a jagged scar on the first finger of his left hand. It's not much to go on, but it's something.
Inspector Grant is never at a loss, and after some lengthy inquiries and a little bit of piecing stories together, he has a description of his man and is off to Scotland to ferret him out of his hideaway. But the murderer is a little more determined than that, which Inspector Grant is about to find out.
The Man in the Queue was an absolutely fascinating mystery. Aside from the original crime itself, Tey doesn't put in any gore, and there's hardly any blood to begin with. Altogether I've read much more violent mysteries, and this one was nice in that it had the suspense without all the disturbing imagery.
Tey doesn't mind using language. I mind that she does, but it's very mild and there aren't too many occurrences, so it's probably a book I would check out from the library again if I couldn't lay my hands on my own copy. There wasn't as much as I found in The Daughter of Time, nor as many off jokes, which was more enjoyable.
As for the mystery itself--brilliant execution on Tey's part. She had me quite on the wrong tack, though as soon as she gave the hint of an alternate solution I was on it, and I flatter myself that though I never discovered the right person, I was at least on the right angle of it. There is an art to writing mysteries without making the reader feel unintelligent for not having guessed it, and Tey is one of those delightful people who sympathizes with the reader through Inspector Grant's train of thought without being at all condescending.
Inspector Grant is a very nice fellow to make a better acquaintance with. The Man in the Queue (or Killer in the Crowd as it is also titled) is the first Alan Grant mystery that Tey wrote. True to form, I read the second to last one first, but I enjoyed this one because he's much more relaxed than he was in Daughter of Time. He's enjoyable when he's a bear of a man, but even more so when he's a normal human being.
In the end, I did have one reservation which prevents me from giving this book an unconditional recommendation. I love Alan's humor, and I tend to think with the same type of amusement at things that he does, but sometimes it strayed into snide remarks about the idiosyncrasies of the Church. Granted, most of his jokes were true ones, but there was no counter-balance of good Christianity of off-set them. Had there been I would have had no objection, because it would have truly portrayed both angles--the funny side and the worthy side. It doesn't come up often, but because I really enjoying humor like Grant's, I think I would start picking up on the bad effects of it if I read Tey's works often. Therefore, she's like pepper: best taken in moderation.
All in all, The Man in the Queue was a most enjoyable way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I recommend it to your attention.