A Shilling for Candles, published in 1936, was Josephine Tey's second detective novel to feature Inspector Alan Grant. I've mentioned it a couple of times on this blog, in connection with Nicola Upson's novel Fear in the Sunlight, and also as the basis for Alfred Hitchcock's film Young and Innocent, which as I said in a review way back in 2010 is very different from the book - even the murderer and motive are changed!
I first read this novel many, many years ago. I 'm a Tey fan, but I was disappointed with it overall. I think that was because she didn't, in my opinion, pay enough attention to characterising the killer or making the motive credible - and this helps to explain why Hitchcock made so many changes. It's certainly not a 'fair play' novel. However, I decided to give it another try and consider the story in part from a technical perspective - why did Tey make the choices she did, and which of them worked?
The fact that I knew what to expect didn't lessen my enjoyment and the first thing to say is that Tey, as always, writes very well and engagingly. The opening scene, where a coastguard discovers a body on a beach, is very well done. The 'man on the run' aspect of the story, which Hitchcock focused on, is also quite good. The title is intriguing and it refers to a mocking bequest in Christine's will. However, this part of the story rather fizzles out as Tey tries to draw the various strands together.
The central problem, I think, is that although she came up with some wonderful story ingredients, she didn't think hard enough about how to integrate them into a satisfactory whole. Probably she was writing in a rush, and wanting to get back to her work in the theatre. I suspect she became worried about the thinness of the motivation and as a result decided to portray the killer, in the closing pages, as deranged. I feel that, despite an element of outlandishness, more could have been done to make this crucial part of the story plausible. But the book is not only worth reading - I was very happy to have read it for a second time, despite my reservations.