Thursday, March 28, 2013

{review} miss pym disposes

You know, you're happily reading other book blogs, and you suddenly think, Bloody Hell [you always preface sudden thoughts with that phrase in Australia ;-)], when did I last blog a book myself?, and you realise that it was nearly a month ago. And, yet, you've been reading like a crazy thing. Bad blogger. So, what have I been reading? Well, re-reading, in this case:


Josephine Tey Miss Pym Disposes (1946)
Lucy always noticed other women's legs, her own being a sad disappointment to her.
Miss Pym Disposes is a re-read for me, after I read 20th century vox's great review, with her excellent comparison to Gaudy Night. I love Tey's books - I was hooked as a teen when my English teacher gave me A Daughter of Time to read alongside our class text of Richard III. I love her quiet, almost actionless detective stories. (I will say at this point that I did not greatly warm to the first Nicola Upson book featuring Tey as detective.)
Half-past five, said the watch. Half-past five! Miss Pym stopped breathing and stared in unbelieving fascination. No, really, did any college, however physical and hearty, begin the day at half-past five! Anything was possible, of course, in a community which had use for neither bedside tables nor bedside lamps, but-half-past five! She put the watch to her small pink ear. It ticked faithfully. She squinted round her pillow at the garden which was visible from the window behind her bed. Yes, it certainly was early; the world had that unmoving just-an-apparition look of early morning. Well, well! Henrietta had said last night, standing large and majestical in the doorway: "Sleep well. The students enjoyed your lecture, my dear. I shall see you in the morning;" but had not seen fit to mention half-past-five bells.
Lucy Pym has written - somewhat to her own surprise - a best-selling book on psychology. She travels to an exclusive girls to give a lecture as a favour to the headmistress, with whom she went to school. The school is unusual - it grooms young ladies for careers related to physical activity and the sciences - future doctors, physios, games-mistresses, etc. Miss Tey's lecture goes down a treat and she is persuaded to stay on to do a little light mentoring and socializing with the girls.
They stood there on the gravel looking up at her, smiling. That was how she always remembered them afterwards. Standing there in the sunlight, easy and graceful; secure in their belief in the world's rightness and in their trust in each other. Untouched by doubt or blemish. Taking it for granted that the warm gravel under their feet was lasting earth, and not the precipice edge of disaster.
The book is wonderful in a number of ways: first up, Tey's writing is a complete joy. Then there is the personality of Miss Tey - a little insecure and flighty, thrilled that she has made enough money to live comfortably instead of as a school-mistress, in love with fashionable things, and, really, not that good a psychologist when plunged headlong into mysterious happenings. Her witty, catty inner voice is a delight, as she reworks what she sees into a more or less plausible (and, perhaps more or less reliable) narrative.
Lucy's capacity for doing nothing was almost endless, and had been the despair of both her preceptors and her friends.
And, of course, there's the actual crime, which doesn't take place until one has completely given up on there ever being a crime. The tension is evoked so beautifully that one almost hopes the inevitable will never happen. How will Miss Pym dispose? (The title's allusion to Thomas à Kempis' 'Man proposes, but God disposes' hints at the futility of judging others, even when the judge has written a bestseller on psychology.)
She could never get away from that other half of herself. It had sent her into fights with her knees knocking, it had made her speak when she wanted to hold her tongue, it had kept her from lying down when she was too tired to stand up. It would keep her from washing her hands now.
Or will it? Find out for yourselves!

Highly recommended.


  1. now your blogged review has inspired me to re-read Miss Pym Disposes :-)

    1. And some handsome Inspector Grant too, for me!

  2. I've been meaning to read more Pym for years, having only managed and loved A Daughter of Time a few years ago. Thanks for the great review and prompt.

    1. She is wonderful - and Miss Pym Disposes is a good intro to her crime fiction.

  3. I was also hooked with The Daughter of Time, though I think my favorite of the Grant novels is The Franchise Affair - where he's only a supporting character, unfortunately. That one or Brat Farrar would be on my desert-island list. I've only read Mss Pym once though - I need to correct that!

    1. I was saying on twitter that I've just realised that I've never read Brat Farrar. It feels like I have, because it is so mixed up in other texts (like Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree). So, a treat for me!

  4. I need to read Miss Pym again too. I'm such a fan of Josephine Tey, even if she does keep saying (or having Grant say) that my particular eye color is the mark of an amoral personality.

    1. :-0 !!!! Brilliant... Sometimes these writers get hung up (surprisingly for such clever plotters) on a crazy explain-all theory, like Agatha Christie with hormones.

  5. Glad you've enjoyed rereading Tey. I might give 'Daughter of Time' a reread over Easter.

    1. I just know that I will descend into an orgy of Inspector Grant re-reading if I do that!

  6. I've only read Brat Farrar and that was mannnnny years ago. I truly enjoyed it, though, and would love to read more of Tey's novels - off to search the library catalog!

    1. I really recommend Miss Pym in that case, Anbolyn - very quirky rather than just crime.

  7. This one sounds really good, will have to look it up! I did enjoy Daughters of Time & The Franchaise Affair, but not so much The Man in The Queue. But this one sounds really fun, especially since it has my favourite setting in the background - a girls' school (is it a boarding school, by the way? That would be even more fun.)If you haven't read Agatha Christie's Cat Among the Pigeons, you might want to check that out, too. :)

    1. Thanks, Michelle! I *love* Cat Among the Pigeons - one of my favourites. So little happens in The Man in the Queue, doesn't it?! I have just finished Brat Farrar now, and it is equal tops with Miss Pym for me. Perhaps even a *little* better.

  8. Well I MUST read a book which contains the line 'Lucy's capacity for doing nothing was almost endless' because that describes me to a tee. I hesitate to write this, but I haven't actually read much Josephine Tey and my only acquaintance with Brat Farrar was an adaptation for television. But I promise to rectify this.

    1. That line spoke to me too, Helen! It could be my motto. I hope you manage to read some more Tey - she is such a good writer.

  9. I have not read any Tey, but have seen The Franchise Affair as a TV serial many years ago and so decided to try the Nicola Upson first Tey adventure. Quite liked it, but it didn't really grab me but I've still got it on the shelf and might read ... maybe I would be better served by reading an actual Tey and not a Tey novel by Upson.
    Margaret P

    1. Yes, I think so, Margaret (but I see you've read my review now, too, but I hope it doesn't put you off trying the Upson again; as a historical novel, I thought it was very well done).

  10. So glad to read this. I have read the Upson books -- the first and second were fine for me. I just about gave up on her with the third and the fourth was about Hitchcock, so OK. But I'd not read Tey. After I loaned the first to a friend she said, "I can't finish this. It just isn't Tey."

    Reading your review makes me realize I really do need to go to the source. Thanks!

    1. That was just my perspective too, Jeanie. It wasn't the Tey I was thinking about as I read Upson. But I do think Upson did a good job as a historical writer. Can't beat the original though!


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