The Man in the Queue

The novel that introduces the likeable but fallible Inspector Alan Grant

The Arrow edition of The
Man in the Queue
A man is found with a stiletto in his back, having been stabbed to death while queueing for the last night of a popular West End show. The main problems for Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, who is deployed to investigate the killing, are the lack of clues to the victim’s identity and the fact that no one in the queue seems to have seen what happened.

The Man in the Queue, the first detective novel by Josephine Tey, was published in 1929, just eight years after Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and six years after Dorothy L Sayers published her first novel, Whose Body?

But unlike Poirot and Wimsey, Alan Grant is a detective by profession and not an amateur sleuth. The novel is an early version of a police procedural and shows Grant interacting with his superiors and subordinates and making use of the forensic tools the police had at their disposal in the 1920s to try to solve the case.

Josephine Tey was a pseudonym used by the writer Elizabeth MacIntosh, who was born in 1896 in Scotland. She trained as a Physical Training instructor and taught at schools in Scotland and England. In 1923 she returned to her family home in Inverness to care for her invalid mother and keep house for her father and it was then that she began writing.

The Man in the Queue was her first mystery novel and introduced her series detective, Inspector Alan Grant. It was awarded the Dutton Mystery Prize after it was published in America.

MacIntosh’s main ambition was to write a play that would have a run in the West End and her drama, Richard of Bordeaux, was such a success when it was first staged in 1932 that it was transferred to the New Theatre, now the Noel Coward Theatre, where it had a year-long run and made a household name of its young leading man, John Gielgud.

Josephine Tey was a pseudonym used by Elizabeth MacIntosh
Josephine Tey was a pseudonym
used by Elizabeth MacIntosh
As Josephine Tey, MacIntosh produced six novels featuring Alan Grant. The fifth novel, The Daughter of Time, published in 1951, was voted the greatest crime novel of all time by the British Crime Writers Association in 1990.    

There is a lot to like about The Man in the Queue. There are beautiful descriptions of Tey’s native Inverness, where she sends Grant in pursuit of a suspect. All the characters, police and suspects alike, are interesting and believable. Grant is a well-rounded policeman, not just a caricature, who is looked after by his landlady, dines regularly at a French restaurant, and is popular with the ladies, making me keen to read the next book in the series, A Shilling for Candles.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the novel is the clever plot. Like other writers of the period, Tey is not afraid to show Grant arresting the wrong man and feeling dissatisfied with his solution. She also manages to keep the true identity of the murderer a secret right up to the end.  

The Man in the Queue was republished by Arrow Books in 2011.

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