Thursday, December 24, 2009

TO LOVE AND BE WISE by JOSEPHINE TEY

DI Alan Grant meets unsettlingly handsome photographer Leslie Searle at a party celebrating the release of Miss Lavinia Fitch's latest bestselling dumb damsel in distress novel.  Literary sherry parties, we're told, are not Grant's cup of tea, but he's there to pick up actress Marta Hallard for dinner.  After helping the beautiful young man find Lavinia Fitch and introducing them, Grant and Marta make a break for it, and Grant thinks nothing more of Searle until he's called out to the country to investigate the photographer's disappearance.

Between the party and DI Grant's arrival at Lavinia Fitch's country estate we are treated to a classic British weekend in the country.  We meet the aliens--the artists who have taken up residence in sleepy Salcott St. Mary--and the locals, all of whom are deliciously eccentric or cranky, quirky or curmudgeonly, and all of whom are both drawn to and repulsed from Leslie Searle.

So when he comes up missing, well, it could have been anyone who caused his disappearance.  DI Grant, always cool and elegant, investigates methodically, but despite his best efforts he is baffled.  The answer, when it comes, does so in a flash of insight, and is surprising and a bit shocking.

Josephine Tey writes in a spare, lyrical style, perfectly suited to luscious description of everything from the English country side (often somewhat ironically distilled through the consciousness of one or another of her characters) to the disarray that lurks in most human minds.  To Love and Be Wise is a great whodunit and a great foray into the the human psyche, why we do what we do and how we understand and interpret it, as well.

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