To Love and Be Wise (1950) by Josephine Tey

This is the next instalment in my mystery re-read project, in which I plan to re-read 2 mystery novels a month. Managing to keep up to this goal so far, but then I am only 2-3 months in! I thought I couldn’t remember much about this novel and the opening scenes were definitely not ones I recalled, but as I got into the book more, the solution did come back to me, one which feels quite GAD-ish, yet is situated in a very un-GAD novel…

Inspector Grant begins this story by taking his actress friend Marta Hallard out to dinner. Picking her up at a party he comes across a stranger, the American Leslie Searle, who is keen to track down Walter Whitman, nephew to the aunt whose party it is. Impulsive, Lavinia Fitch, the aunt in question invites Leslie down to her country abode to meet Walter, suggesting that he gets a lift from Walter’s fiancée Liz. Of course Leslie ingratiates himself sufficiently to get his visit extended beyond the weekend, suggesting Walter and himself produce a book together on the local river, from source to sea. Salcott St Mary where most of the action takes place, has become somewhat of an artistic community and Leslie’s introduction into it certainly turns the tension up. Nor does it help that Walter and others are increasingly becoming worried about the amount of time Leslie is spending with Liz… No reader will be surprised that when their trip brings them past Salcott St Mary, Leslie goes missing one night. Inspector Grant duly gets called into investigate, though cards are certainly stacked against him. After all there is not even a body…

Overall Thoughts

I think this novel has grown on me, since my first reading of it five years ago. From a wholly mystery plot point of view this book can become easily frustrating – lack of clues, thunder bolt of lightning type inspiration etc. Yet I think if the reader readjusts their expectations then there is a lot for them to enjoy. This novel has the sort of solution which could get on your wick a lot, if the book’s writing style and characters were not so strong. There is something almost Austen-esque in the way Tey’s narrative voice analyses her characters, their thought processes especially; the depth to which each character will probe a given issue. The question of whether Liz is falling in love with Leslie or not is also well-handled, with Tey making this angle far more complicated and on the whole I think Tey provides a very creative variation on the lover’s triangle trope. There is so much I could and would love to say about Leslie’s character but that would definitely be heading to the heart of spoiler territory so I will be good and won’t, but the book is worth reading for Leslie’s character alone really.

We also of course get to see deeper layers to Inspector Grant, different to those revealed in The Singing Sands. In this tale much is shown about Grant in his friendship with Marta. His thoughts frequently show his perception of all Marta’s merits and the positives she would bring to a marriage, yet there is just some inexplicable thing which prevents his thoughts going any further. It is also interesting that at the very start of the book Marta is described as one of Grant’s ‘windows’ into the world, in particular the world of the theatre. Grant believes that the more ‘windows’ a policeman has into the world, the better a policeman he will be. Whilst this has a delightful literary, possibly even Shakespearean twang to it all, it did to me, make Grant seem a bit of a taker or user in this relationship. Perhaps this is part of his choice to remain single.

Finally this book is also quite amusing for the British impressions of Americans that it includes: ‘My dear man any American pays a girl attention. It is a conditioned reflex. As automatic as breathing.’ Male readers in America feel free to let us know if there is a grain of truth in this stereotype…

So depending on what you want out of a novel, this book will be fairly entertaining or drive you up the wall.

Rating: 4/5


  1. Thanks for the review. 😃 I haven’t read much Josephine Tey, having only read ‘Franchise Affair’ thus far – but it strikes me that her works aren’t quite GA mysteries? And so while the parallels with Austen sound appealing, I think I might give this a pass and wait eagerly for your next review, as I just purchased the novel via my local Kindle store. 🤩

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah she is definitely a hard mystery writer to fully categorise, as she doesn’t fit common sub-categories. But yeah I can’t see this one appealing to you. You would definitely be driven up the wall by it!


  2. I re-read this last year, and whilst I remembered the central details, I had forgotten almost everything else, including motive and how things are resolved. I don’t think any of her eight crime novels could be called a dud, and the variety amongst them (Miss Pym Disposes, Brat Farrar, The Franchise Affair, The Daughter of Time, and the four Alan Grants) is staggering to me. I would happily read them all again, which is in contrast to my re-reading of Agatha Christie, where once I’m done, there are some I’m sure I wouldn’t return to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I’ve found there is something in Tey’s work which makes a number of them fairly forgettable so you can easily re-read them. I’ve had a more mixed experience with her work. Miss Pym got up my nose somewhat!


  3. This is not my favourite of her books (DON’T MENTION MISS PYM) but it has a few aspects that I liked very much. I thought that she didn’t go deep enough into some parts of the plot – maybe 10 or 20 years later some of the strands might have made for a deeper more psychological story…

    Liked by 1 person

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