A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey

A Shilling for Candles, is the fourth book by Josephine Tey that I’ve read. It was first published in 1936 and is the second book in her Inspector Grant series. I enjoyed it but I have to admit that I don’t think it’s as good as the other books by her that I’ve read, namely:

  • The Daughter of Time, first published in 1951, a fascinating novel in which Inspector Alan Grant is in hospital and to keep his mind occupied he decides to discover whether Richard III really did murder his nephews – the Princes in the Tower;
  • Miss Pym Disposes, first published in 1946, a psychological study of characters and motives, in which Miss Pym investigates the death of a student at a physical training college; and
  • The Franchise Affair, first published in 1948, set in a post Second World War England reflecting the social attitudes of its time and based on a real case from the 18th century of a girl who went missing and later claimed she had been kidnapped.

Inspector Alan Grant investigates the apparent suicide of a young and beautiful film star, Christine Clay, who was found dead beneath the cliffs of the south coast. But he soon discovers that was in fact murder as a coat button was found twisted in her hair and he suspects a young man, Robin Tisdall who had been staying with Christine in a remote cottage near the beach, especially when it is revealed that she has named him as a beneficiary in her will. Tisdall has lost his coat and so the search is on to find it to prove either his innocence or guilt.

But it is not so straight forward and Grant has other suspects – Christine’s aristocratic and wealthy husband, an American songwriter, and her estranged brother to whom she had left the gift of ‘ a shilling for candles’. Then there are her friends, including the actress Marta Hart, a leading lady, Judy Sellers, who played dumb blondes and Lydia Keats, an astrologer who casts horoscopes for the movie stars.

Other characters include my favourite in the book, Erica Burgoyne, the Chief Constable’s 17 year old daughter, a quirky character who proves to be most resourceful.

I enjoyed it but thought that overall it was a bit messy, a bit all over the place, as Grant dashed about the south coast and London. It’s definitely a book of its time with several casual anti-Semitic references and Tey has used a lot of slang and idioms that aren’t so recognisable today. There are red herrings and plenty of twists and turns, all of which meant that although at first I identified the culprit, by the end I had no idea who it was. What I thought was more interesting is the way she wrote about the destructive nature of celebrity and the lengths to which the stars went to keep some privacy in their lives – not so different from today.

This book fits into several of the challenges I’m doing this year – the 20 Books of Summer, Mount TBR Reading Challenge, the Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt (in the category of a cover showing a body of water) and the Read Scotland Challenge, because Josephine Tey, whose real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh (1896 – 1952). She was a Scottish author who wrote mainly mystery novels.

Josephine Tey’s books:

Alan Grant
The Man in the Queue (1929) aka Killer in the Crowd
A Shilling for Candles (1936) (the basis of Hitchcock’s 1937 movie Young and Innocent)
The Franchise Affair (1948) 
To Love and Be Wise (1950)
The Daughter of Time (1951)
The Singing Sands (1952)

Kif: an Unvarnished History (1929) (writing as Gordon Daviot)
The Expensive Halo (1931)
Miss Pym Disposes (1946)
Brat Farrar (1949) aka Come and Kill Me
The Privateer (1952)

Claverhouse (1937) (writing as Gordon Daviot) A biography of John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee (1648 ‘“ 1689), known as ‘Bonnie Dundee’after leading the Jacobites to victory at the Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689, in which he lost his life.

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; First Thus edition (3 Feb. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099556685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099556688
  • Source: I bought my copy

14 thoughts on “A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey

  1. The Daughter of Time is the only Josephine Tey book I’ve read so far, but I have a copy of this one on my shelf which I’m hoping to read soon. I’m pleased to hear you enjoyed it even if it’s not as good as the others you’ve read.


  2. This one is my least favourite of the five JT books I’ve read so far. It wasn’t terrible, but as you said, messy. I think she got into her stride with book three, The Franchise Affair, and really hit it with To Love and Be Wise… both of them superb. Really looking forward to reading The Daughter of Time.


  3. I’m glad you found some things to like about this, Margaret. I agree with you that Daughter of Time and >Miss Pym Disposes are among Tey’s best, thought. And it’s interesting that Tey has that bit of effective commentary on celebrity, isn’t it? I always appreciate it when authors make that sort of remark without overburdening a story.


  4. I’ve read the first two books in Tey’s Inspector Grant series and thought that neither was a stellar mystery, although they were interesting and in no way deterred me from seeking out the rest of her work. I’m looking forward to reading The Franchise Affair and, in the future, re-visiting (after some 45 years) The Daughter of Time.

    I’ve also read Brat Farrar and quite enjoyed that even though I ‘caught on’ early in the book.


    1. Debbie, I must find a copy of Brat Farrar too – I don’t think I have one. I’d love to reread The Daughter of Time too – if only there was more time!


  5. I’m afraid I didn’t even get on with The Daughter of Time, eventually abandoning it halfway through. It’s a pity – I always feel I’d like to like Tey, but sometimes an author and a reader just don’t get along…

    Glad you enjoyed this to some degree, though, even if it wasn’t your favourite.


    1. I read The Daughter of Time quite a few years ago and I wonder if I would feel the same about it if I re-read it – my tastes have probably changed.


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