Mention the name Elizabeth MacKintosh at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival, for example, or Bloody Scotland – or, indeed, any other event where noir fans gather to talk twists and big reveals – and you’re likely to be greeted with stares. blank and puzzled looks. And this despite the fact that she is arguably the first (and some say the best) author of Scottish crime novels.
The recognition factor may be higher in the Highland town where MacKintosh spent most of her life and where she wrote all her novels sitting at the kitchen table or in the garden shed. But not by much. Even throwing out book titles won’t help. Love and be wise, anyone? How about The Franchise Affair, The Daughter Of Time or A Shilling For Candles?
If there’s a trivia nerd or a movie buff in the business, the latter two could rekindle the memories as the penny starts to dwindle. Was she using a pseudonym, perhaps? Didn’t Alfred Hitchcock do something? Wasn’t there some sort of famous list?
Answers: she was, he did, there is.
First, the list. In 1990 the UK Crime Writers’ Association published a now famous recap of the 100 best crime novels of all time. Nestled in the front row, ahead of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold – and well ahead of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca and Wilkie Collins’ granddaddy of mystery novels, The Moonstone – you find The Daughter Of Time, published in 1951. The Franchise Affair, from 1948, is at 11.
As for Hitchcock, he made A Shilling For Candles as Young And Innocent in 1937, barely a year after the publication of the novel. With his 1936 film Sabotage and 1938’s The Lady Vanishes, he proved enough of a calling card for Hollywood to come knocking on the door. In July 1938, he prepares in Los Angeles his first project for the legendary producer David O Selznick: an adaptation of Rebecca with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier which will win two Oscars.
Elizabeth MacKintosh’s question is of course a trick question, as the woman born July 25, 1896 and raised in a fruit shop in Inverness did write under a pseudonym: Josephine Tey (pictured below). But even learning that can cause head-scratching. Although quite famous during her lifetime, especially early in her career when she wrote plays as well as novels, there is no doubt that her star has slipped since her death in 1952 at just 55 years old.
Inverness author Jennifer Morag Henderson, whose 2015 biography Josephine Tey: A Life was republished last year to mark the 125th anniversary of her subject’s birth, and Penguin editors aim to put her back on the pedestal they think it belongs to. They have just re-released a series of novels by Tey with new introductions by Tana French, Kate Mosse and Alexander McCall Smith.
For Mosse, Tey is quite simply one of the greatest mystery writers of the 20th century as well as one of the most misunderstood, a shape-shifting author who loved history and whose subtle and complex novels delve into ideas about crime. identity and disguise. For Tana French, author of the Dublin Murder Squad series, she asks important questions about media bias and the qualifications for being a victim. For Alexander McCall Smith, her skill is her gender fluidity, the way she deftly transforms police procedural into a work of historical fiction. Or is it the other way around?
Joining the acclaimed chorus are other mystery writers such as Richard Osman, Anthony Horowitz and Val McDermid, who also wrote the introduction to Henderson’s biography and who describes Tey as “the most interesting of the great female writers in history.” Golden age”.
Henderson herself, meanwhile, was instrumental in a campaign to put a blue plaque on the wall of the former fruit store in Castle Street in Inverness, which was once home to the MacKintosh family business. Given the green light in June, it should finally be placed on the building next month. And if you wander through the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh this month, you’ll find Pen Names, a new exhibition which has a section on Tey and which revolves around themes such as gender, privacy and the reputation.
“She’s famous and not famous at the same time,” says Henderson. “When I tell people I wrote a biography of her, they politely ask me who she is or grab my arms and say they’ve read everything she’s written.”
In her daily life in Inverness, Tey was deeply private. She didn’t indulge in self-promotion, and you certainly wouldn’t have found her on something as showy as a book tour. There are few photographs of her, she was a poor match (although Henderson found letters between her and queen of crime Dorothy L Sayers) and her life was so compartmentalized there were mourners at her funeral who had never even met.
“Because she was in Inverness, she wasn’t interested in the London literary scene, but neither was she very much connected to the Scottish literary renaissance that was happening at the time,” says Henderson. “She was an exact contemporary of Neil Gunn who was also in Inverness, but she didn’t fit that scene and didn’t have the same political views.”
Although The Franchise Affair and the 1949 novel Brat Farrar were filmed in 1950 and 1963 respectively, and Tey’s 1932 play Richard Of Bordeaux gave its star John Gielgud his first West End success, it is still best known today for The Daughter Of Time.
Starring its longtime detective hero Alan Grant, it finds the Scotland Yard inspector in hospital with a broken leg and a cold case to be investigated by a mischievous actress friend: the disappearance and probable murder sometime in 1483 of the so- called Princes in the Tower, the young sons of Edward IV. History has long placed the dastardly deed at the feet of their wicked uncle Richard III, Shakespeare’s humpbacked, black-hearted villain. Tey, through Grant, re-examines what is one of the most infamous episodes in English history – and comes to some very startling conclusions about the alleged culprit.
Already an unusual premise for a detective novel, The Daughter Of Time has also had a remarkable effect on so-called Ricardian studies. Winston Churchill, very much in the anti-Richard III camp, referred to Tey’s book in his four-volume History of Britain when he wrote: “It will take many ingenious books to elevate the matter to the dignity of a historical controversy.
Yet that is what he did. The Daughter Of Time had an energizing effect on the Richard III Society, founded in 1924 as The Fellowship Of The White Boar, but a very eccentric and minority affair until Tey and his novel arrived. Fast forward half a century and the Society has branches all over the world. Thanks in part to the efforts of its Scottish chairman, Philippa Langley, it was a leading player in the discovery and exhumation of the body of Richard III in a Leicester car park in 2012. And, coincidentally, that story comes back hits the big screen next month with the release of The Lost King, a film about Richard’s body hunt. Written by Steve Coogan and directed by Stephen Frears, it stars Sally Hawkins as Langley and Coogan as her husband, John. But would all of this have happened without Josephine Tey? Unlikely.
Richard III’s reputation was disguised for half a millennium before fresh eyes were cast upon it and his story told by new hands. Elizabeth MacKintosh, the daughter of the Inverness fruit shop owner, never suffered this fate. But it is a name and a reputation that we would always do well to remember and restore.
The Daughter Of Time, The Franchise Affair and To Love And Be Wise are out now (Penguin, £8.99); Josephine Tey: A Life by Jennifer Morag Henderson is published by Sandstone Press (£14.99); Pen Names runs at the National Library of Scotland until April 29.
Learn more in this series:
Hidden treasures: Scottish women writers deserve a fresh look