Tey, Josephine (1896 – 1952) [Updated on 9 December 2021]

Josephine_Tey_portraitJosephine Tey was a pseudonym used by Elizabeth MacKintosh (25 July 1896 – 13 February 1952), a Scottish author. MacKintosh was born in Inverness, the oldest of three daughters of Colin MacKintosh, a fruiterer, and Josephine (née Horne). She attended Inverness Royal Academy and then, in 1914, Anstey Physical Training College in Erdington, a suburb of Birmingham. She taught physical training at various schools in England and Scotland and during her vacations worked at a convalescent home in Inverness as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse. A youthful romance ended with her soldier friend’s death in the Somme battles. In 1923, she returned to Inverness permanently to care for her invalid mother, and stayed after her mother’s death that year to keep house for her father. While caring for her father she began her career as a writer. Her first published work was in The Westminster Gazette in 1925, under the name Gordon Daviot. She continued publishing verse and short stories in The Westminster Review, The Glasgow Herald and the Literary Review.

Her first novel, Kif: An Unvarnished History (1929), was well received at the time with good reviews, a sale to America, and a mention in The Observer’s list of Books of the Week. This work, inspired by a detachment of the 4th Cameron Highlanders, a Scottish Territorial battalion stationed at Inverness before the First World War and prominent in the city’s affairs, was an early indication of Tey’s lasting interest in military matters. Three months later, her first mystery novel, The Man in the Queue (1929), was published by Benn, Methuen. It was awarded the Dutton Mystery Prize when published in America. This is the first appearance of her detective, Inspector Alan Grant. It would be some years before she wrote another mystery.

MacKintosh’s real ambition had been to write a play which would receive a run in London’s West End. Her play Richard of Bordeaux was produced in 1932 at the Arts Theatre, under the Daviot pseudonym. Its success was such that it transferred to the New Theatre (now the Noël Coward Theatre) in 1933, for a year-long run. The production made a household name of its young leading man and director, John Gielgud (who became MacKintosh’s life-long friend). She wrote about a dozen one-act plays and another dozen full-length plays, many with biblical or historical themes, under the name of Gordon Daviot but none of these received notable success. .

MacKintosh’s best-known books were written under the name of Josephine Tey, which was the name of her Suffolk great-great grandmother. In five of the mystery novels, all of which except the first she wrote under the name of Tey, the hero is Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant. (Grant appears in a sixth, The Franchise Affair, as a minor character.) The most famous of these is The Daughter of Time (1951), in which Grant, laid up in hospital, has friends research reference books and contemporary documents so that he can puzzle out the mystery of whether King Richard III of England murdered his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. Grant comes to the firm conclusion that King Richard was totally innocent of the death of the princes. The Franchise Affair (1948) also has an historical context: although set in the 1940s, it is based on the 18th-century case of Elizabeth Canning. The Daughter of Time was the last of Tey’s books published during her lifetime. Her last work, a further crime novel, The Singing Sands (1952), was found in her papers and published posthumously.

Tey was intensely private, shunning all publicity throughout her life. During her last year, when she knew that she was mortally ill, she resolutely avoided all her friends as well. She died of liver cancer at her sister Mary’s home in London on 13 February 1952. Most of her friends, including Gielgud, were unaware that she was even ill. Her obituary in The Times appeared under her real name: “Miss E. Mackintosh Author of ‘Richard of Bordeaux'”.

In 1990, The Daughter of Time was selected by the British Crime Writers’ Association as the greatest crime novel of all time; The Franchise Affair was 11th on the same list of 100 books.

In 2015, Val McDermid argued that Tey “cracked open the door” for later writers such as Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell to explore the darker side of humanity, creating a bridge between the Golden Age of Detective Fiction and contemporary crime novels, because “Tey opened up the possibility of unconventional secrets. Homosexual desire, cross-dressing, sexual perversion – they were all hinted at, glimpsed in the shadows as a door closed or a curtain twitched. Tey was never vulgar nor titillating…. Nevertheless, her world revealed a different set of psychological motivations.” In 2019, Evie Jeffrey discussed Tey’s engagement with capital punishment debates in A Shilling for Candles and To Love and Be Wise. (Source: Wikipedia)

Selected Bibliography: The Man in the Queue (APA Killer in the Crowd), 1929 as Gordon Daviot (Inspector Grant #1); A Shilling for Candles, 1936 (Inspector Grant #2); Miss Pym Disposes, 1946 (standalone); The Franchise Affair, 1948 (Inspector Grant #3); Brat Farrar (APA Come and Kill Me), 1949 (standalone); To Love and Be Wise, 1950 (Inspector Grant #4); The Daughter of Time, 1951 (Inspector Grant #5); The Singing Sands, 1952 (Inspector Grant #6).

Curtis Evans asks himself at The Passing Tramp: ‘And what are your favorite Teys?’ An he answers: ‘ I think it’s safe to sat that the Big Three are The Daughter of Time, Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair, with Miss Pym Disposes perhaps nipping discreetly at their heels.  The other four Tey mystery novels tend to be comparatively neglected.  I soon will post a review of one of the latter four books.’

An Martin Edwards wrote at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’: ‘The Daughter of Time is her most famous book, but I prefer the excellent Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair.’

Besides, Martin Edwards included The Franchise Affair in his book The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

I’m looking forward to reading soon: The Franchise Affair, Brat Farrar, Miss Pym Disposes, and The Daughter of Time.


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Peter Davies, UK (1948)

11431109The Franchise Affair is a 1948 mystery novel by Josephine Tey about the investigation of a mother and daughter accused of kidnapping a local young woman. In 1990, the UK Crime Writers’ Association named it one of The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time.

Marion Sharpe and her mother seem an unlikely duo to be found on the wrong side of the law. Quiet and ordinary, they have led a peaceful and unremarkable life at their country home, The Franchise. Unremarkable that is, until the police turn up with a demure young woman on their doorstep. Not only does Betty Kane accuse them of kidnap and abuse, she can back up her claim with a detailed description of the attic room in which she was kept, right down to the crack in its round window.

But there’s something about Betty Kane’s story that doesn’t quite add up. Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard is stumped. And it takes Robert Blair, local solicitor turned amateur detective, to solve the mystery that lies at the heart of The Franchise Affair

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