Josephine Tey

The Singing Sands

""Tey is such a consummate wordsmith..." "


Exhausted and suffering from a form of nervous breakdown, Inspector Alan Grant has been given sick live and travels to family in Scotland to recuperate. When disembarking from the overnight train, he finds the night porter in one of the cabins standing over a dead body. It appears the man, in a drunken stupor has tripped over and bashed his head on the basin. Confirming he has been dead some hours, Grant collects his newspapers and swiftly departs. Unbeknownst to him, he has accidentally picked up the dead man's newspaper on which is written some lines of poetry about talking beasts, standing streams, stones that walk and the singing sand.

With this poem floating around his head, Grant wonders what sort of person the dead man was. As Grant begins to fight his own demons, he finds that the man who has been identified as Charles Martin will not be laid to rest easily. With a chance encounter, Grant realises that he must once again be the avenging angel and right a terrible wrong.

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Tey only wrote a handful of novels and yet has been continuously in print since her premature death in 1952. 'The Singing Sands' was published posthumously and always seems to be a novel that isn't quite given its due. This is a book of two halves. The first half shows the slow mending of Alan Grant. He is one of those men who if cut in half would have policeman running right through him as he is the personification of justice. Tey lovingly describes her homeland of Scotland with Grant visiting the remote islands to discover the significance of 'the singing sands'. It is during this visit that Grant begins to mend himself and exits the dark recesses of his breakdown. For a novel of this era, it is out of the norm for an author to deal with personal issues, showing that Tey wanted to convey her characters as human rather than mere devices within her plot. This is not your usual procedural, but a novel of a man being made whole again by the demise of another. It is the dead man's poem that sets Grant on the road of recovery. In turn, Grant feels it his duty to uncover the truth about the man's death. The crime element of the story forms the basis of the second part of Tey's story. Tey is such a consummate wordsmith that she does not need to sensationalise the crime. It is on the back burner, but the novel does not suffer because of it. In fact, through her words you can see her tenderly nursing back to health her lead character, which at times is very touching. The solution isn't a complete surprise, but this isn't all about the crime. For me, it just proved that while many authors of her era have fallen by the wayside, Tey continues to enthral new and old readers, because even sixty years later, the same trials of life are pertinent now as then.

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