Bottom line: A quirky novel with a murder. A good read for fans of the Golden Age mystery era who are looking to add some more authors to their list.
Rating: Recommended if you are a fan of Golden Age mysteries.
Miss Lucy Pym, a popular English psychologist, is guest lecturer at a physical training college. The year’s term is nearly over, and Miss Pym — inquisitive and observant — detects a furtiveness in the behavior of one student during a final exam. She prevents the girl from cheating by destroying her crib notes. But Miss Pym’s cover-up of one crime precipitates another — a fatal “accident” that only her psychological theories can prove was really murder.
Reading something by Josephine Tey has been on my “to be read” list for a while – I’m a huge fan of other Golden Age mystery authors and she is ranked up there with Sayers, Christie, Allingham and Marsh (see a recommended reading list for those authors here). Tey has several standalone novels (as opposed to a series), so I picked this one because it was a) at my library and b) set in a college (I have a soft spot for the academic world).
It’s been a few days since I read this now, and I’m still trying to decide if I liked it. It is very different from a standard murder mystery, in fact, if I hadn’t read the blurb (which I think gives away too much), I wouldn’t have realized I was reading a murder mystery. You’re more than two thirds of the way through the book before anything unpleasant happens.
However, despite that, it was an enjoyable read. Miss Pym, the heroine, is a quirky but fun character, and the occasional humorous non sequitur reminded me a little bit of Douglas Adams humor. The setting in a women’s college and some of the themes throughout the book reminded me quite strongly of Gaudy Night (published in 1935 – just over a decade earlier), though it didn’t feel like a knockoff, just familiar.
As I said earlier, I’m not entirely sure that I liked it. I would certainly rank it below the other four authors previously mentioned. It didn’t follow the normal conventions of a mystery, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did take some recalibrating. I think I would read more Josephine Tey, but I’m in no hurry to run out and get another one. If we can borrow from the collegiate world, I would consider this a Golden Age 201 course – after you’ve taken Golden Age 101 (Sayers, Christie and so on) and want to pursue the subject, this would be a good next step.
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