The Man In The Queue
Scottish author Elizabeth Mackintosh, who often wrote under the pseudonym of Josephine Tey, has had a profound influence on many crime writers.
The Man in the Queue (AKA Killer in the Crowd) is the first of the author's novels starring the popular Inspector Alan Grant (one of the Hound's greatest crime fighters).
Grant traces the mysterious slaying of a man waiting to see a London musical, whose neighbors in line insist they saw nothing.
Before long, Grant discovers that the dead man was small-time bookmaker Albert Sorrell, who shared lodgings with Jerry Lamont, another bookmaker. The evidence that Grant gradually finds seems to show that Lamont was Sorrell’s killer. Several witnesses claim that Lamont had joined the crowd and that he and Sorrell had had an argument. Furthermore, evidence shows that Sorrell’s killer was left-handed (which Lamont is) and probably cut himself with the murder weapon (Lamont’s got a wound in the place where the killer would have been injured). There’s other damning evidence, too. So Grant becomes quite certain that Lamont’s the murderer – especially when Lamont disappears.Grant traces Lamont to Scotland where he catches the suspect. On the way back to London, Lamont claims that he’s innocent, but that he knows no-one will believe him. Grant, who has no desire to imprison or execute an innocent man, agrees to hear Lamont out. By the time their return journey ends, Grant begins to believe he may have the wrong man. Now he has to go back over the case from the beginning to see what he missed and find out who really killed Albert Sorrell and why. By this time, too, Lamont’s been charged with murder and his trial’s coming up. So Grant will have to act fast if he’s going to find out the truth in time to save Lamont.
Tthis novel has a set of interesting characters, especially the character of Alan Grant. When he realises that he may have arrested the wrong person for the crime, we see how upset he is and how the crime continues to haunt him. “What had he left undone? What possible avenue of exploration had he left untravelled? He tried deliberately to stop himself from further questioning, to accept the general theory that the police case was too good to be other than true…But it was no use. The feeling that there was something wrong somewhere always flowed back the minute he stopped bullying himself.”
It’s easy to admire a police detective who’s so determined to get at the truth and in fact, Grant is much harder on himself than anyone else is on him. And we can respect his perseverance when, even after Lamont’s trial has begun, Grant keeps searching for the truth.
There are several other interesting characters in the novel, too. For instance, Sorrell and Lamont’s landlady Mrs. Everett is a very interesting character who knows more than she says at first, and plays a role in Grant’s search for the truth. And then there’s her niece Miss Dinmont. She’s a nurse who is visiting her family’s home in Scotland during Lamont’s stay there. When he’s injured, it’s Miss Dinmont who looks after him until he’s well enough for Grant to return with him to London. Miss Dinmont is intelligent and shrewd, and although she, too, believes Lamont is guilty of murder at first, she travels from Scotland to London to attend his trial and hear the evidence for herself. Grant describes her as “self-contained,” and she’s more than a match for his own wits.
Another element in this novel is the question of who’s really right and wrong. When we find out who killed Albert Sorrell and why, it’s easy to identify with the motive. We feel sympathy for the killer. We also get a completely different view of Sorrell from the one the police have at first. In fact, the last lines of the novel express this question very well.
In many ways, this is a police procedural. So the reader follows Grant and his team as they interview witnesses, wait for fingerprint analysis and collect evidence. There’s an interesting sense of urgency, too, as the evidence seems to point squarely to Lamont while at the same time, Grant wonders whether Lamont is being “railroaded” by the very police procedures that Grant’s team has undertaken.
There’s a sense of place, too; Tey gives readers a strong sense of the setting. Here, for instance, is a bit of Grant’s trip to Nottingham to follow up on a lead: “In a little side street, near the castle – the kind of street that has never seen a tramcar and where one’s footsteps echo until one involuntarily looks behind – were situated the small and gloomy offices of Yeudall, Lister & Yeudall.” The story takes place in London and a few other places in England as well as in Scotland. However, Tey distinguishes clearly among the various locations in the story, so that the reader isn’t confused about where the action is taking place.
The solution of the mystery is a surprise, and for some readers, it may be disappointing. It’s not an “out of the blue” solution, but it’s also not a solution that results from painstaking work or a sudden awareness of the real meaning of a clue. That said, though, it does fit in with the questions the story raises about what “counts” as right or wrong.
About Josephine Tey:
Born in Inverness, Scotland, The United Kingdom, 1896 ((died 1952).
Josephine Tey was a pseudonym of Elizabeth Mackintosh. Josephine was her mother's first name and Tey the surname of an English Grandmother. As Josephine Tey, she wrote six mystery novels including Scotland Yard's Inspector Alan Grant. The first of these, 'The Man in the Queue' (1929) was published under the pseudonym of Gordon Daviot, whose name also appears on the title page of another of her 1929 novels, 'Kit An Unvarnished History'. She also used the Daviot by-line for a biography of the 17th century cavalry leader John Graham, which was entitled 'Claverhouse' (1937). Mackintosh also wrote plays (both one act and full length), some of which were produced during her lifetime, under the pseudonym Gordon Daviot. The district of Daviot, near her home of Inverness in Scotland, was a location her family had vacationed. The name Gordon does not appear in either her family or her history.
Elizabeth Mackintosh came of age during World War I, attending Anstey Physical Training College in Birmingham, England during the years 1915-1918. Upon graduation, she became a physical training instructor for eight years. In 1926, her mother died and she returned home to Inverness to care for her invalid father. Busy with household duties, she turned to writing as a diversion, and was successful in creating a second career. Alfred Hitchcock filmed one of her novels, 'A Shilling for Candles' (1936) as 'Young and Innocent' in 1937 and two other of her novels have been made into films, 'The Franchise Affair' (1948), filmed in 1950, and 'Brat Farrar' (1949), filmed as 'Paranoiac' in 1963. In addition a number of her works have been dramatised for radio.
Her novel 'The Daughter of Time' (1951) was voted the greatest mystery novel of all time by the Crime Writers' Association in 1990.
Miss Mackintosh never married, and died at the age of 55, in London. A shy woman, she is reported to have been somewhat of a mystery even to her intimate friends. While her death seems to have been a surprise, there is some indication she may have known she was fatally ill for some time prior to her passing.
As the novel begins, a large London crowd is waiting at the Woofington Theatre to see the final performance of Didn’t You Know? starring Ray Marcable, the sensation of the moment. The doors finally open and the crowd surges forward to take their seats. Just then, a man who’s been waiting with the others slumps forward, dead. Someone in the crowd stabbed him while everyone was pushing forward. No-one standing near the man claims to know him, so the police have to start by finding out who the dead man was. Superintendent Barker of Scotland Yard gives the case to Inspector Alan Grant, who begins to try to put the pieces of the puzzle together.