Friday 18 November 2022

Forgotten Book - A Shilling for Candles

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.  


Ted said...

I read this one in 1987 and have absolutely no memory of it. I also read The Daughter of Time and Brat Farrar around the same time and vividly remember them.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, Ted, quite understandable. The later books are more striking. I'd remembered the identity of the killer and the motive (both of which are interesting if inadequately foreshadowed) but not the detail of the story.