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The Singing Sands

The Singing Sands

Автором Josephine Tey и Robert Barnard

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The Singing Sands

Автором Josephine Tey и Robert Barnard

4.5/5 (28 оценки)
263 pages
5 hours
Apr 28, 2020


Bestselling author Josephine Tey’s classic final mystery featuring her best-loved character, Inspector Alan Grant, filled with “all the Tey magic and delight” and now featuring a new introduction by Robert Barnard.

On sick leave from Scotland Yard, Inspector Alan Grant is planning a quiet holiday with an old school chum to recover from overwork and mental fatigue. Traveling on the night train to Scotland, however, Grant stumbles upon a dead man and a cryptic poem about “the stones that walk” and “the singing sand,” which send him off on a fascinating search into the verse’s meaning and the identity of the deceased. Grant needs just this sort of casual inquiry to quiet his jangling nerves, despite his doctor’s orders. But what begins as a leisurely pastime eventually turns into a full-blown investigation that leads Grant to discover not only the key to the poem but the truth about a most diabolical murder.
Apr 28, 2020

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Josephine Tey began writing full-time after the successful publication of her first novel, The Man in the Queue (1929), which introduced Inspector Grant of Scotland Yard. She died in 1952, leaving her entire estate to the National Trust.

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The Singing Sands - Josephine Tey

The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey; Robert Barnard, Scribner



MYSTERY READERS who have never encountered Josephine Tey are in for a delicious treat. Tey belonged to the Golden Age of British crime writing (roughly speaking, 1920-1950), and her place in the pantheon of mystery writers is unassailable.

Josephine Tey (1896 or ‘97-1952) is a writer who lives by her works alone. Nobody seems to know anything much about her life, in spite of her successful career in the theatre, and nobody seems to care. The steady and sustained sale of her novels in the forty-odd years since her death is due to the books themselves, which have proved to have an enduring appeal. And I would hazard the guess that her readers’ attitude toward her is different from their attitude toward other classic crime writers: they regard her with love. They give to their favourite Tey novel what they once gave to their favourite books of childhood, to The Wind in the Willows, Little Women, or whatever: unconditional enthusiasm.

This strong bond between novelist and reader is based on trust—trust in someone who is not only a first-rate storyteller but one who is not content with a formula. Tey, in her best books, seeks to tell different sorts of story, in different ways. This marks her off from the usual purveyors of puzzle-plots, brilliant though they often are. Indeed, in her more straightforward detective stories Josephine Tey often reveals a sort of impatience with the rules and conventions of the whodunit. In A Shilling for Candles, for example, two of the three plot strands are unravelled with information that is either not given readers at the time the detective gets it, or only revealed just before the unmasking of the criminal. She was, in other words, not interested enough in that kind of game, and preferred to play other, more varied sports.

Three of her novels occupy that hinterland—often uneasy, but not in her hands—between the crime novel and the novel proper. They all have crime at their heart, but they are as far as possible from the body in the library formula. Impersonation has been at the heart of many detective stories, but it has seldom carried the emotional charge of Brat Farrar, and our sympathies are never in a mere puzzle so skilfully and so surprisingly manipulated. The Daughter of Time is an almost unrepeatable success (a historical mystery reanimated and investigated by present-day enquirers), and it has aroused a whole new interest in what previously seemed a dusty and rather sordid period of English history—the reign of King Richard III and the murder of the Princes in the Tower. The Franchise Affair also has a basis in fact (an eighteenth-century case in which a maid charged her employers with abduction and mistreatment), but in her hands it becomes a sort of parable of the middle class at bay.

Coming at the tail end of the Golden Age of crime fiction, Tey does not escape some of the less attractive attitudes of her contemporaries: anti-Semitism, contempt for the working class, a deep uneasiness about any enthusiasm (for example Scottish nationalism) that, to her, smacks of crankiness. If Agatha Christie’s Anthony Astor in Three Act Tragedy is indeed a hit at Tey then Christie targets Tey’s weaknesses squarely when she talks about her spiritual home—a boarding house in Bournemouth, with the implication of dreary respectability and conventionality.

But that is to seize on the inessentials and to ignore the essence: Josephine Tey’s brilliant storytelling: her varied, loving characterisation; above all, her control of reader sympathies. These are evident in all her novels, whether whodunits or more unconventional structures. If Ngaio Marsh or Christie had died as young as Tey we would have a good idea of what they could have gone on writing. We can guess that Tey would have written several more whodunits, but what she would have written is beyond our guesswork. That in itself is her best tribute.

ROBERT BARNARD is the author of more than thirty crime novels, including, most recently, Bad Samaritan. A seven-time Edgar nominee and winner of the Anthony, Agatha, Macavity, and Nero Wolfe awards, he lives in Leeds, England.


IT WAS SIX O’CLOCK of a March morning, and still dark. The long train came sidling through the scattered lights of the yard, clicking gently over the points. Into the glow of the signal cabin and out again. Under the solitary emerald among the rubies on the signal bridge. On toward the empty grey waste of platform that waited under the arcs.

The London mail at the end of its journey.

Five hundred miles of track lay behind it in the darkness all the way to Euston and last night. Five hundred miles of moonlit fields and sleeping villages; of black towns and unsleeping furnaces; rain, fog, and frost; snow flurry and flood; tunnel and viaduct. Now, in the six o’clock bleakness of a March morning the hills had risen round it and it was coming, casual-seeming and quiet, to rest after its long urgency. And only one person in all its crowded length did not sigh with relief at the realisation.

Of those who sighed, two at least sighed with a gladness that bordered on passion. One of these was a passenger, and the other was a railway employee. The passenger was Alan Grant, and the railway employee was Murdo Gallacher.

Murdo Gallacher was a sleeping-car attendant, and the best-hated living creature between Thurso and Torquay. For twenty years Murdo had browbeaten the travelling public into acquiescence and blackmailed them into tribute. Monetary tribute, that is. Their vocal tribute was voluntary. To first-class passengers far and wide he was known as Yoghourt. (Oh, God, it’s Old Yoghourt! they would say as his sour face became visible through the steamy gloom of Euston.) The third-class passengers called him a variety of things, both frank and descriptive. What his colleagues called him is nobody’s business. Only three people had ever got the better of Murdo: a cowhand from Texas, a lance-corporal of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, and an unknown little cockney woman in the third-class who had threatened to beat him over his bald head with a lemonade bottle. Neither rank nor achievement impressed Murdo: he hated one and resented the other; but he was greatly afraid of physical pain.

For twenty years Murdo Gallacher had done the absolute minimum. He had been bored by the job before he had been a week at it, but he had found it a rich lode and he had stayed to mine it. If you got morning tea from Murdo, the tea would be weak, the biscuit soft, the sugar dirty, the tray slopped, and the spoon missing; but when Murdo came to collect the tray the protests which you had been rehearsing died on your lips. Now and then an Admiral of the Fleet or something like that would venture an opinion that it was damned awful tea, but the ruck smiled and paid up. For twenty years they had paid up, weary and browbeaten and blackmailed. And Murdo had collected. He was now the owner of a villa at Dunoon, a string of fried-fish shops in Glasgow, and a very nice bank balance. He might have retired years ago but he could not bear the thought of losing his full pension; so he endured the boredom a little longer and evened things up by not bothering with early-morning teas unless passengers suggested the thing themselves; and sometimes, if he was very sleepy, forgetting about the order anyway. He hailed the end of each journey with the relief of a man who is working out his sentence and has only a short time left.

Alan Grant, watching the lights of the yard float past beyond the steamed-up window and listening to the gentle sound of the wheels clicking over the points, was glad because the end of the journey was the end of a night’s suffering. Grant had spent the night trying not to open the door into the corridor. Wide awake, he had lain on his expensive pallet and sweated by the hour. He had sweated not because the compartment was too hot—the air-conditioning worked to a marvel—but because (O Misery! O Shame! O Mortification!) the compartment represented A Small Enclosed Space. To the normal eye the compartment was just a neat little room with a bunk, a washbasin, a mirror, luggage racks in assorted sizes, shelves that appeared or disappeared as bidden, a fine little drawer for one’s hypothetical valuables, and a hook for one’s presumably unhocked watch. But to the initiate, the sad and haunted initiate, it was A Small Enclosed Space.

Overwork, the doctor called it.

Sit back and browse for a little, the doctor had said, crossing one elegant Wimpole Street leg over the other and admiring the hang of it.

Grant could not imagine himself sitting back, and he considered browsing a loathsome word and a contemptible occupation. Browsing. A fattening-up for the table. A mindless satisfaction of animal desires. Browse, indeed! The very sound of the word was an offense. A snore.

Have you any hobbies? the doctor had asked, his admiring glance going on to his shoes.

No, Grant had said shortly.

What do you do when you go on holiday?

I fish.

You fish? said the psychologist, seduced from his Narcissian gazing. And you don’t consider that a hobby?

Certainly not.

What is it, then, would you say?

Something between a sport and a religion.

And at that Wimpole Street had smiled and had looked quite human, and assured him that his cure was only a matter of time. Time and relaxation.

Well, at least he had managed not to open the door last night. But the triumph had been dearly bought. He was drained and empty, a walking nothingness. Don’t fight it, the doctor had said. If you want to be in the open, go into the open. But to have opened the door last night would have meant a defeat so mortal that he felt there would be no recovery. It would have been an unconditional surrender to the forces of Unreason. So he had lain and sweated. And the door had stayed closed.

But now, in the unrewarding dark of early morning, in the bleak, anonymous dark, he was as without virtue as if he had lost. I suppose this is how women feel after long labour, he thought, with that fundamental detachment which Wimpole Street had noted and approved. But at least they have a brat to show for it. What have I got?

His pride, he supposed. Pride that he had not opened a door that there was no reason to open. Oh, God!

He opened the door now. Reluctantly, and appreciating the irony of that reluctance. Loath to face the morning and life. Wishing that he could throw himself back on the rumpled couch and sleep and sleep and sleep.

He picked up the two suitcases which Yoghourt had not offered to do anything about, tucked the bundle of unread periodicals under his arm, and went out into the corridor. The little vestibule at the end of it was blocked almost to the roof with the luggage of the more lavish tippers, so that the door was nearly invisible; and Grant moved on into the second of the first-class coaches. The forward end of that too was stacked waist-deep with privileged obstacles, and he began to walk down the corridor towards the door at the rear end. As he did so Yoghourt himself came from his cubby-hole at the far end to make sure that Number B Seven was aware that they were nearly at the terminus. It was the acknowledged right of Number B Seven, or of any Number whatever, to leave the train at his leisure after arrival; but Yoghourt had of course no intention of hanging round while someone had his sleep out. So he knocked loudly on the door of B Seven and went in.

As Grant came level with the open door, Yoghourt was shaking B Seven, who was lying fully dressed on the bunk, by the cloth of his sleeve and saying in choked exasperation: Come on, sir, come on! We’re practically in.

He looked up as Grant’s shadow darkened the door and said disgustedly, Tight as an owl!

The compartment was so solid with the reek of whisky that you could stand a walking-stick in it, Grant noticed. Automatically he picked up the newspaper that Yoghourt’s shaking had dislodged on to the compartment floor, and straightened the man’s jacket.

Can’t you recognise a dead man when you see one? he said. Through the haze of his tiredness he heard his own voice say it: Can’t you recognise a dead man when you see one? As if it were a thing of no moment. Can’t you recognise a primrose when you see one? Can’t you recognise a Rubens when you see one? Can’t you recognise the Albert Memorial when—

Dead! said Yoghourt in a kind of howl. He can’t be! I’m due to go off.

That, Grant noted from his far-away stance, was all that it meant to Mr. Blast His Soul Gallacher. Someone had taken leave of life, had gone out from warmth and feeling and perception to nothingness, and all it meant to Damn His Eyes Gallacher was that he would be late in getting off duty.

What’ll I do? said Yoghourt. How was I to know anyone was drinking themselves to death in my coach! What’ll I do?

Report to the police, of course, Grant said, and for the first time he was conscious of life again as a place where one might have pleasure. It gave him a twisted, macabre pleasure that Yoghourt had at last met his match: the man who would get out of tipping him; and that that man should be the one to put him to more inconvenience than anyone had succeeded in doing in all his twenty years in the railway service.

He looked again at the young face under the rumpled dark hair, and went away down the corridor. Dead men were not his responsibility. He had had his fill of dead men in his time, and although he had never quite lost a heart-contraction at its irrevocability death had no longer power to shock him.

The wheels ceased their clicking, and instead came the long low hollow sound that a train makes coming into a railway station. Grant lowered the window and watched the grey ribbon of the platform run past. The cold struck him like a blow in the face, and he began to shiver uncontrollably.

He dropped the two suitcases on the platform and stood there (chattering like a blasted monkey, he thought resentfully) and wished that it was possible to die temporarily. In some last dim recess of his mind he knew that to dither with cold and nerves on a station platform at six of a winter morning was in the final resort a privilege, a corollary to being alive; but oh, how wonderful it would be to achieve temporary death and pick up life again at some happier moment.

To the hotel, sir? the porter said. Yes, I’ll take them over when I’ve seen to this barrow-load.

He stumbled up the steps and across the bridge. The wood sounded drumlike and hollow under his tread; great bursts of steam billowed up round him from below; noises clanged and echoed from the dark vault about him. They were all wrong about hell, he thought. Hell wasn’t a nice cosy place where you fried. Hell was a great cold echoing cave where there was neither past nor future; a black, echoing desolation. Hell was concentrated essence of a winter morning after a sleepless night of self-distaste.

He stepped out into the empty courtyard, and the sudden quiet soothed him. The darkness was cold but clean. A hint of greyness in its quality spoke of morning, and a breath of snow in its cleanness spoke of the high tops. Presently, when it was daylight, Tommy would come to the hotel and pick him up and they would drive away into the great clean Highland country; away into the wide, unchanging, undemanding Highland world where people died only in their beds and no one bothered to shut a door anyhow because it was too much trouble.

In the hotel dining-room the lights were on only at one end, and into the gloom of the unlit spaces marched ranks of naked baize-topped tables. He had never before, now he came to think of it, seen restaurant tables undressed. They were really very humble shabby things stripped of their white armour. Like waiters without their shirtfronts.

A child in a black uniform dress and a green jersey coat embroidered with flowers poked her head round a screen and seemed startled to see him. He asked what he might have for breakfast. She took a cruet from the sideboard and set it on the cloth in front of him with an air of ringing the curtain up.

I’ll send Mary to you, she said kindly, and went away behind the screen.

Service, he thought, had lost its starch and its high glaze. It had become what housewives call rough-dried. But now and then a promise to send Mary to one made up for embroidered jerseys and similar infelicities.

Mary was a plump calm creature who would inevitably have been a Nannie if Nannies were not out of fashion, and under her ministrations Grant felt himself relaxing as a child does in the presence of a benevolent authority. It was a fine state of affairs, he thought bitterly, when he needed reassurance so badly that a fat hotel waitress could provide it.

But he ate what she put in front of him and began to feel better. Presently she came back, removed the slices of cut bread, and put in their place a plate of morning rolls.

Here’s the baps to you, she said. They’ve just this minute come. They’re poor things nowadays. No chew in them at all. But they’re better than that bread.

She pushed the marmalade nearer to his hand, looked to see if he needed more milk, and went away again. Grant, who had had no intention of eating any more, buttered a bap and reached for one of the unread papers from last night’s store. What came to his hand was a London evening paper, and he looked at it with a puzzled lack of recognition. Had he bought an evening paper? Surely he had read the evening paper at the normal hour of four o’clock in the afternoon. Why buy another at seven o’clock in the evening? Had buying an evening paper become a reflex action, as automatic as brushing one’s teeth? Lighted bookstall: evening paper. Was that the way it worked?

The paper was a Signal, the afternoon voice of the morning Clarion. Grant looked again at the headlines which he had absorbed yesterday afternoon and thought how constant in kind they were. It was yesterday’s paper, but it might equally be last year’s or next month’s. The headlines would for ever be the ones that he was looking at now: the Cabinet row, the dead body of the blonde in Maida Vale, the Customs prosecution, the hold-up, the arrival of an American actor, the street accident. He pushed the thing away from him, but as he reached out a hand for the next roll in the pile he noticed that the blank space for the Stop Press news bore scribblings in pencil. He turned the paper round so that he could see what someone had been calculating. But it seemed that the scribble was not, after all, some newsboy’s hasty reckoning of the odds. It was someone’s attempt at verse. That it was an original work and not an attempt to remember some verse already known was apparent in the desultory writing and in the fact that the writer had filled the two missing lines by ticking in the required number of feet, a trick that Grant himself had used in the days when he had been the best sonnet-writer in the sixth form.

But this time the poem was none of his.

And suddenly he knew where the paper had come from. He had acquired it by an action much more automatic than buying an evening paper. He had put it under his arm with the others when he picked it up as it slipped to the floor of compartment B Seven. His conscious-mind—or as much of it as was conscious after last night—was concerned with the disarray that Yoghourt was making of a helpless man. His only deliberate action had been his reproof to Yoghourt in his straightening of the man’s jacket, and for that he had needed a hand, and so the

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  • (4/5)
    Taking a rest from being overworked at Scotland Yard, Inspector Alan Grant plans a quiet vacation with an old school friend. On the night train to Scotland, he comes across a dead body (we're not sure if it is in fact a murder) and the scribblings "stones that walk" and "singing sand". Curious not only about the death but also about the phrases, it becomes impossible for Grant to get the rest that he needs. He does not stop until he figures out both mysteries. This is a delightful puzzle which is unveiled in a perfect manner. Unfortunately this is Ms. Tey's last book.
  • (4/5)
    The Singing Sands is the final Alan Grant book and was published posthumously. It's slightly odd in structure - it begins with Grant on the train north to Scotland battling claustrophobia, a symptom of the mental breakdown brought on by overwork. Grant is present when a body is discovered on the train and leaves as he's not on duty and consumed by his illness. However he has accidentally picked up the dead man's newspaper and the scrawled lines of poetry catch at his imagination and his desire to find out more about the man becomes the thread that lead him back to health. That thread takes him to places unrelated to the mystery but, in bringing him a cure, are vital to the mystery's solution. A lovely book.
  • (4/5)
    Inspector Alan Grant is recovering from a nervous breakdown. He's on the night train to Scotland to visit his cousin's family, and he's on hand when the conductor discovers that another passenger has died in his compartment. This unexplained death turns out to be just what Grant needs to take his mind of his troubles and regain his mental health. Grant inadvertently took away the dead man's newspaper, and a scribbled rhyme sets him on a search for the singing sands.The locations and the cast of characters are enjoyable. I especially liked Grant's cousin's young son, who seemed to be a middle-aged soul in a child's body. Reading this book was bittersweet because it was my last experience of reading a Tey novel for the first time. From now on, they will all be re-reads.
  • (5/5)
    The beasts that talk,The streams that stand,The stones that walk,The singing sands,That guard the way to ParadiseThis cryptic verse sends him on a hunt for the murderer of a fellow passenger on a train he is taking to Scotland. He is travelling there to recover from a nervous breakdown, where he will stay with friends. This verse takes him to the Hebrides, to France, and to London. A classic of the genre. I've read only one other of Tey's mysteries, but consider this the better of the two--unexpected twists and turns galore.Most highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    Another excellent mystery from Tey. This time the investigation is more to do with solving a puzzle than a crime. By going on a visit to his cousin in Scotland, Alan Grant is trying to control or recover from severe claustrophobia brought on by overwork. When the train arrives, one of the passengers was found dead in his cabin. Grant absently picks up the dead man's newspaper where he finds a scribbled verse:The beasts that talk,The streams that stand,The stones that walk,The singing sands,----That guard the way to Paradise.The words suggest places in the Hebrides and a fine way to take his mind off his problem. This fishing holiday was the part that I enjoyed most and I would have been content if Grant had remained there to contemplate the puzzle - with the help of an exceptional local librarian! Excellent characters and setting, but the conclusion was less satisfying with the solution provided in a letter from the perpetrator.
  • (5/5)
    A good and satisfying mystery, and Josephine Tey's usual charming characters and writing."The [fishing] fly exceeded in originality even that remarkable affair which had been lent at Clune. He decided to use it on the Severn on a day when fish would take a piece of red rubber hot-water bottle, so that he could write honestly to Pat and report that the Rankin fly had landed a big one.The typical Scots insularity in 'those english rivers' made him hope that Laura would not wait too long before sending Pat away to his English school. The quality of Scotchness was highly concentrated essence, and should always be diluted. As an ingredient it was admirable; neat, it was as abominable as ammonia."
  • (5/5)
    Quite a few murder mysteries begin with their victim alive, just long enough that the reader comes to know and like him. (I hate that.) With The Singing Sands, the victim is dead from the beginning, but I still got to know and like him through the course of the book, even as Alan Grant did. (I hate that too, but at least there's a requiem feeling about it here.) Much as with Daughter of Time, Alan is laid up and in need of something to take him outside himself. Here, though, Alan is on medical leave from the Force due to nervous issues and severe claustrophobia – and I quite like that he did not find it easy requesting this leave. Being forced to acknowledge what he sees as a weakness not merely to his no-nonsense Super but to himself was a major hurdle. But it was necessary, and he was intelligent enough to recognize that he had to get away or snap once and for all: since an incident on the job, he has been growing steadily less able to tolerate enclosed spaces, steadily less able to rely on his own reactions to stress. Among other things, travel is a nightmare for him. The setting where the book begins, a train just pulling in to the station, is the least hideous option … which means only that he is, barely, able to keep hold of himself. A car or, worse, airplane, would have been nearly fatal for this trip to his cousin Laura and her family in Scotland: the train car is confining, but pride and sheer stubbornness get him through the long sleepless night. Barely. The journey by car from the station to his cousin's home nearly does him in. It's a disturbing, absorbing depiction of claustrophobia and its effects on a strong man in his prime who never suffered from any such thing before. He is horrified and not a little put out at its intrusion into his life now. Alan's sensible, though, in dealing with it, determined to push himself, but not beyond the bounds of reason. He approaches the situation much the way he does other problems, and forces himself to proceed logically and – again – sensibly; I think I'm coming back to that quality because it's one that seems to go out the window in so many cases, fictional and non-. Alan's discovery of a dead man on his train – young, with a highly individual face – is disturbing, though not as disturbing as it would be if a) he were a civilian, and b) he were not so preoccupied with his own misery. Everyone from the police onward takes the situation as it appears: young man went "one over the eight", fell, hit his head on the sink, and sadly died. But there is something which, even in Alan's present state, doesn't sit well. Then he discovers that he accidentally carried away the man's newspaper, and that written in a blank space is an extraordinary attempt at poetry, and the man's life, identity, and death become a puzzle he cannot leave alone. It all leads him on a quest to learn the truth and maybe, just maybe, regain his own self-possession. As always, the mystery is merely a device to give Alan and his psyche a workout. He just can't let go of the problem, can't accept the official verdict, can't escape the conviction that there's more to it all. His mind is not the usual simple and undemanding sort I'm used to riding along with in a mystery novel. As was established in Daughter of Time, he doesn't handle forced inactivity very well, and forced introspection is not his favorite past-time; it's an unsettling revelation to both him and the reader just how little he enjoys his own company. Even the prospect of all the fishing he can handle doesn't help: he needs something more, and alternates between almost determinedly despairing plans to reinvent his future – and the, for him, much more constructive pursuit of the truth of the matter of the dead man on the train. The relationships in the book are pure pleasure. Alan and his colleagues – his Super is not a cardboard cutout, however small his role in the book; Alan and his cousin, Laura, who is very much his Might Have Been; Alan and the dead man's shade; Alan and the dead man's friend, and the Lady who is stopping over in the area. Laura's small son is a creature who skews the likeability average for fictional kids drastically upward – he's fabulous. There is a joy to this novel, an air of finality and farewell as Alan puts himself back together again and returns to his life, that makes it fitting for this to be the end of the series, the last of the Alan Grants (though I do have one more Tey book left, when I find it). It's a solid satisfying ending. I'd love more, which of course is impossible (unless, she said hopefully, there is a cache somewhere of Elizabeth Mackintosh's papers which might yield more Alan Grant – but she doesn't seem to have been the type of person to leave boxes full of uncategorized papers), so this is a good note on which to say goodbye, whether it was intended to be the end or not. Josephine Tey was the second, lesser pseudonym Mackintosh used: Gordon Daviot was the name she used for her serious work, her plays. But I remember being surprised to learn of the popularity of her stage work. Richard II was almost its generation's Cats, with people going back over and over, buying dolls of the characters and mobbing the stars. Yet the plays are, best I can see, out of print (I had to go to eBay for a copy of Richard, and I believe that came from England); it is Alan Grant who lives on. I think he was severely undervalued by his creator. The novels are superb, and it has been a joy to reread them. Now if only some "angel" would back a production of Richard, preferably either in New York or on film...
  • (4/5)
    Clearly written by an author at the height of her powers, this is a perceptive portrait of a smart person wrestling with his own mind (in more ways than one). And a satisfying mystery to boot.
  • (4/5)
    Inspector Grant is on the verge of a mental breakdown, his doctor sends him to spend some time in Scotland fishing and relaxing. Not thinking about or working on any murders. However, fate has a different plan in mind, and possibly a better route of healing than anyone could have prescribed.This was an amusing book to read, I did feel the author copped out at the end, but the path there was a good one. She is very good at her characters, they are vivid and easily seen.
  • (4/5)
    The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey is the last book in her Alan Grant series, and strangely, this book tells us more about the personal side of her main character than any other volume in the series. Alan is off on a fishing holiday to Scotland, he is taking a doctor prescribed break as the pressures of the job have caused him to recently develop claustrophobia. When a dead body turns up on the train to Scotland and is dismissed as a accidental death. Alan finds himself thinking about this death and becomes convinced that there is more to it than has yet been revealed. By working through this case as well as getting in some fishing time, and meeting a very attractive woman, Alan is able to face his phobia and let it go. As in many of Josephine Tey’s books, the mystery is almost secondary, what shines through is the author’s love of Scotland, it’s people and landscapes. The details she includes about fishing lead me to believe she , like Alan Grant, was probably an avid follower of that sport. I am a fan of books that are written during the Golden Age of Detective Novels and Josephine Tey was among the best of these writers. I enjoyed this last book of the series and will miss these stories.
  • (5/5)
    What a great read! Apparently this was her last in the Inspector Grant series, so I'll have to go back in time to read the rest! Great language, great dialect and setting detail. Perfect individual plot beside the larger murder mystery. Recommended without reservation- a quick read.
  • (5/5)
    Inspector Grant takes a break for health reasons; on his train to Scotland he sees a body, is intrigued by some lines he sees written on a newspaper, lets them niggle at his brain, carries out an investigation while struggling with claustrophobia, does some fishing, makes peace with himself, solves the mystery - which is totally mystifying. Very enjoyable, remarkably well written.
  • (4/5)
    Inspector Alan Grant runs into a little mystery on the train to Scotland (for a health break), and can't quite let go of it while visiting a friend, and fishing. Likeable and unlikeable characters keep showing up, some helping and some hindering his investigation. Grant is likeable too, although he doesn't always realize just how annoyingly complacent and dismissive he can be. Grant's recovery struggles, the poetry and "hidden worlds", and flashes of dry humor in this contemplative book make it a satisfying read.
  • (5/5)
    A great book; my wife wonders what Ms Tey would think of the current crop of Scottish Nationalists. This was a do-not-put-down book that I read in twodays. Yes, she has the great Alan Grant, detective extroadinary, and he finally gets this jerk to write him a letter explaining how he did it,
  • (5/5)
    This is one of my favourite Alan Grant stories, and excellently read by Stephen Thorne. Grant is a very attractive character with his fascination with faces and his detached analysis of those around him - including his nearest and dearest. I particularly enjoy his inner arguments with himself in this tale. The story opens with him on a night train to Scotland, suffering from a breakdown through overwork that has left him with claustrophobia. In a daze after a sleepless night he sees a notoriously despised porter known as "Yughourt" shaking a passenger to wake him, so that he can clear the train. The man is dead and Grant straightens his jacket from the mauling Yughourt has given him. Absent-mindedly he picks up a newspaper which has fallen to the floor,and later on finds some verse scribbled on it. The verse and the dead man's face become something of an obsession, and Grant tries to find the source of the verse:The beasts that talk,The streams that stand,The stones that walk,The singing sand : :: :That guard the wayTo ParadiseHis hunt for answers takes Grant to Cladda in the Hebrides, to France, and an early return to his home in London. Along the way we meet his cousin Laura with whom he had a budding romance in their youth, her outspoken miniature rebel of a son, Patrick, a draggle-tailed revolutionary called Wee Archie, a young American pilot, and a world famous explorer, with a host of minor, though well-drawn, characters. It is a mystery rather than a crime story, though there is a crime behind it all. It is about people - their characters and relationships - and about the beauty of Scotland. I have read and listened to it a number of times over the years, and still enjoy it every time.
  • (4/5)
    Taking a rest from being overworked at Scotland Yard, Inspector Alan Grant plans a quiet vacation with an old school friend. On the night train to Scotland, he comes across a dead body (we're not sure if it is in fact a murder) and the scribblings "stones that walk" and "singing sand". Curious not only about the death but also about the phrases, it becomes impossible for Grant to get the rest that he needs. He does not stop until he figures out both mysteries. This is a delightful puzzle which is unveiled in a perfect manner. Unfortunately this is Ms. Tey's last book.
  • (4/5)
    Tey's last book (published posthumously) features Alan Grant on extended leave following a breakdown. Quite accidentally he intervenes in the case of a dead man found in a sleeping-car, and inadvertently walks off with the newspaper in which the deceased had scribbled some lines of poetry. Gradually, acting in a completely private capacity, he discovers that the body was travelling under a false name, and that he was murdered, the motive being rather outlandish. As usual the book is as much about Grant himself as it is about the crime, and there are some delightful minor characters (Grant's young cousin Pat is particularly well-written) together with some pungent thoughts on Scottish Nationalism. On the downside (from some viewpoints, anyway) rather a lot of time is spent pursuing a trail which turns out a complete red-herring. This book divides opinions, but it's a favourite of mine.
  • (3/5)
    Interesting mystery. More novel than mystery..
  • (4/5)
    The beasts that talkThe streams that standThe beasts that talkThe singing sandsTey writes mysteries, but her excellences are those of a novelist. She fashions unforgettable characters. She describes the natural world precisely and beautifully. She is very funny. Her puzzle mechanics are less central. As they should be. 3.2.08
  • (5/5)
    This was Tey’s last Alan Grant mystery. I always enjoy her books and this one was very satisfying. Tey's books tend to be novels instead of just a puzzle to solve. This one was a good novel and an intriguing puzzle.As Grant leaves the train in Scotland where he has gone for an extended rest because of work stress he passes a compartment where there is a dead body. He absent mindedly picks up a newspaper from the scene on which is written an unusual “poem”. The beasts that talk,The streams that stand,The stones that walk,The singing sand.................................................That guard the wayTo ParadiseHe becomes engrossed in trying to discover who this dead man is and why he wrote the poem. His answer is surprising.
  • (4/5)
    I'm a big Tey fan and I love the main character, Inspector Grant.
  • (4/5)
    If such a thing is possible, this is a pastoral mystery. Her sentence structure and use of language make The Singing Sand flow as if it were a conversation. A true Great Read. This author deserves much more readership than I suspect she has .As to being unkind to marginalized groups, it's not always possible to sympathize with all things. I suppose that's why we eat trout. Thanks, Mrs. Tey!
  • (4/5)
    Sadly Tey wrote only eight mysteries, and this is her last, published posthumously. I don't think it's among her best. I'd rate it perhaps sixth out of the eight, but it's still a great read, and stands out as a character study of her detective, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard.When he first appeared in The Man in the Queue he struck me as rather bland especially compared to such sleuths as Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey. With the possible exception of The Daughter of Time, he also strikes me in the books he appears in as the most fallible detective protagonist I've ever read. He's not notable for brilliant logical deductions like Holmes or Poirot. What he has is what he calls "flair"--intuition, instinct, imagination--and that doesn't always steer him the right way. At the beginning of The Singing Sands we see a mentally fragile Grant. Suffering from overwork, he's subject to a crippling claustrophobia. Taking leave to visit his cousin Laura in the Scottish Highlands, he encounters a dead body in one of the sleeping berths, seemingly the result of an accident. On a newspaper is scribbled some verse:The beasts that talk,The streams that stand,The stones that walk,The singing sands,That guard the way to Paradise.He finds that verse teasing his mind, and it pushes him to solve the mystery of the meaning of the verses and the young man's death, taking him to the Hebrides and to Marsaille. The introduction to the newest editions of the Tey books by Robert Barnard don't hold up Tey to a flattering light. I don't think Barnard really likes Tey. I came across on the internet at one point a list by Barnard of favorite works of crime fiction--notably Tey wasn't on his list. In his introduction he accuses Tey of "anti-Semitism, contempt for the working class, a deep uneasiness about any enthusiasm (for example Scottish Nationalism) that, to her, smacks of crankiness."Having recently reread all the books, there are definitely ethnic stereotypes expressed by characters, especially Grant. However, notably the only identifiably Jewish character, in A Shilling for Candles, is a positive one who rightly twits Grant about his class prejudices--Grant is entirely wrong about him. I also can't see anything but respect for working people in Tey's books. What she does express contempt for are self-styled radical champions of the working class--quite a different thing. Her attitude there is especially evident in The Franchise Affair. The Singing Sands is the book where the digs against Scottish Nationalism are primarily made. They don't strike me as cranky though. If anything they strike me as refreshing and relevant, as a slap at those who try to flare back to life age-old historical grievances. And I can certainly see Wee Archie in a lot of current political activists. Tey definitely shows a conservative sensibility that might offend the politically correct, and this is definitely one of her novels where that attitude is to the fore. And actually the tic I find most disconcerting throughout the novels isn't one Barnard picked up on. Tey has a tendency to judge people on their looks--not on whether they're attractive or not. But Grant believes someone is adventurous because of the shape of his eyebrows and in The Franchise Affair a woman is believed promiscuous because of the shade of blue of her eyes. As often is the case with Tey, this book also isn't the strongest of mysteries in a puzzle box sense. I found the way the mystery is resolved by a confession in a letter particularly weak. This definitely wouldn't be the Tey work I'd recommend as an introduction--I'd choose either The Daughter of Time or Brat Farrar if you haven't yet tried her before. But as with all Tey's books, this is strong in prose style, humor and unforgettable characters. And it's somehow fitting her last book is one where we get to delve a bit deeper into the psyche of her detective hero.
  • (4/5)
    Alan Grant has developed claustrophobia from overwork and takes a fishing holiday in Scotland, but when the train from London arrives in Scotland,one of the passengers is dead. The death is apparently an accident, and the dead man is identified as a French mechanic, but Grant finds the victim had been writing an odd poem before he died about singing sands and other strange things that guard the way to Paradise. At first this leads him to the Hebrides,but then his advertisement about the poem brings a response from a man who identifies the dead man as a British commercial pilot flying in Arabia who might have discovered the legendary city of Wabar, supposedly guarded by the strange things in the poem. (NB another of these legendary Arabian cities has in fact been discovered, long after Tey wrote this book.) The Scottish sequence seems to be of little use beyond praising aspects of Scotland Tey liked and satirizing aspects she didn't like, notably an egregious Scottish Nationalist phony Gael from Glasgow, (I hate to think how she would react to the present success of the Scots Nats)
  • (4/5)
    I have enjoyed Josephine Tey's writing over the years. Hers are not simple mysteries but rather complex. Small clues can be found as you read along, but they can easily be missed.

    Inspector Alan Grant is on a forced holiday visiting relatives in the country, after suffering from a nervous breakdown from over work. As he is leaving the train he sees a sleeping-car attendant man-handling a passenger that seems to be in a drunken sleep. To Grant's eye it is apparent that the man isn't asleep, but is dead. As Grant walks by, he picks up a newspaper from the floor and then heads out to his hotel. He is on holiday and not to become involved with any police work.

    At the hotel he picks up the paper and notices some pencil written lines of poetry. The lines are haunting and start him on thinking about the dead man. He finds himself drawn into the mystery and searching down more clues to find out who the man is, why was he murdered and what the written lines refer to.

    A goodread to me.
  • (4/5)
    a deceptively slow tale...At the beginning Inspector Alan Grant is in some sort of recuperation, needing rest and relaxation, and you get wrapped up in the details of his Highland break - the cold cold hotel in Cladda, the fear of flying, the only woman who looks good in waders... and then his mind kicks back in and he picks up the threads of the mysterious man with the reckless eyebrows who died on the train Alan was travelling on. I love the "Aha" moment when he recognises the vanity of the murderer, and how he picks and puzzles until the clues come together.
    And beautifully, understatedly written too.
  • (4/5)
    The Singing SandsJosephine TeyMay 8, 2016Inspector Alan Grant is burnt out, and takes a leave to visit family in Scotland.  He is troubled by claustrophobia.  When he awakens on the train, he observes the porter trying to awaken a dead man.  He absent-mindedly grabs the newspaper the dead man had in his compartment, and finds a scribbled fragment "The beasts that talk/The streams that stand/The stones that walk/The singing sands/ ... /That guard the way to paradise".  A dead man writing cryptic poems, what more could a police inspector ask for?  The rest of the book is about finding the identity of the dead man and unraveling the mystery of the poem.  There is a long mislead visit to the Hebrides, and finally a confession from an Orientalist.  Enjoyable for the atmosphere and misdirection. 
  • (5/5)
    I first read this as a paperback in the 1960s. It had a magical feeling that i didn't feel so much the last couple of times that I've read it, but it's still a warm cozy with interesting and likeable characters. (Unfortunately, the first thing I read was the back cover: it give away the big surprise disclosed a few pages before the end of the story! Harrumph!)