According to my Goodreads list, I gave this book 5/5 when I first read it. Yet I’d completely forgotten what happens in it, even the culprit. Our nominated corpse comes up early in the story, within a matter of pages, the film actress Christine Clay, who is found washed up on a beach. Initially it is assumed to be suicide or accidental, but it is not long before it becomes murder. She had been hiding away from friends and media at a nearby cottage, though she had taken on lodger, the very broke Robert Tisdall, who had just spent all of his inheritance. Bit of a wastrel and lazy individual, he has a fairly ropey story as to what he was doing around the time of the murder; namely stealing and then returning her car. So it is not surprising that the police are after him, especially once the will is read. Yet there are others who also fit the bill for murderer: her explorer husband, a song writer and even theatrical rivals.
Tey is good at opening her novels and I enjoyed how she slowly reveals the initial crime. Her attention to even small characters is apparent in these opening pages and I was particularly struck by how a coast guard cynical attitude towards the body is described:
‘Bill clicked his tongue against his front teeth, and jerked his head back. A gesture which express with eloquence and economy the tiresomeness of circumstances, the unreasonableness of human beings who get themselves drowned, and his own satisfaction in expecting the worst of life and being right.’
The social background of the book is also well established in the opening, with a tension of opinions between the younger and older generations and the book even interweaves a thread on anti-Semitism, with one character decrying that: ‘A German Jew looks like a German as often as not, a Russian Jew looks like a Russian. The countries have taken them into themselves. But an English Jew looks like a Jew. And you call that tolerance.’ In addition, there is also an interesting subplot involving the Chief Constable daughter, though I don’t feel it was made full use of.
Despite these more positive points though I have to admit that this is my first re-read, where I have been wondering what I loved about it so much the first time around, as unfortunately this time the story didn’t really grab my attention. I think the investigation’s try try try again approach didn’t work for me, and equally in some ways this was rather a bitty plot, which affected the characterisation. Don’t forget the last minute out of nowhere solution as well. So not hugely satisfying. Has anyone else had this experience, where a re-read is not as good as you remember it?
Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Death by Drowning