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The Singing Sands (1952)

by Josephine Tey

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Alan Grant Mysteries (6)

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1,2113611,612 (3.87)98
In the last of Tey's Inspector Grant mysteries, her sleuth investigates a death made suspicious by a few enigmatic lines, apparently scribbled by the deceased before his demise. Grant's enquiries take him to the remote Hebrides, where the bizarre circumstances of the death begin to become clear.
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The Singing Sands is the final Alan Grant book and was published posthumously. It's slightly odd in structure - it begins with Grant on the train north to Scotland battling claustrophobia, a symptom of the mental breakdown brought on by overwork. Grant is present when a body is discovered on the train and leaves as he's not on duty and consumed by his illness. However he has accidentally picked up the dead man's newspaper and the scrawled lines of poetry catch at his imagination and his desire to find out more about the man becomes the thread that lead him back to health. That thread takes him to places unrelated to the mystery but, in bringing him a cure, are vital to the mystery's solution. A lovely book. ( )
  Figgles | Mar 16, 2020 |
A good and satisfying mystery, and Josephine Tey's usual charming characters and writing.

"The [fishing] fly exceeded in originality even that remarkable affair which had been lent at Clune. He decided to use it on the Severn on a day when fish would take a piece of red rubber hot-water bottle, so that he could write honestly to Pat and report that the Rankin fly had landed a big one.

The typical Scots insularity in 'those english rivers' made him hope that Laura would not wait too long before sending Pat away to his English school. The quality of Scotchness was highly concentrated essence, and should always be diluted. As an ingredient it was admirable; neat, it was as abominable as ammonia." ( )
  piemouth | Jul 22, 2019 |
So, it seems that Inspector Alan Grant has had a nervous breakdown and has taken a leave of absence from Scotland Yard. He's off to Scotland to stay with his best friend from his school days Tom Rankin, and Tom's wife, Laura, who is also Grant's cousin. He plans many lovely days fishing in the streams and rejuvenating himself.

But, as he is leaving the train, he sees the conductor trying to wake up an apparent drunk in one of the sleeping compartments. Grant knows instantly that the man is dead. The man has a rather arresting countenance, which haunts Grant. Grant also discovers later on that he had lifted a news paper from the man's compartment with a rather intriguing fragment of a poem written in a blank spot.
The beasts that talk,
The streams that stand,
The stones that walk,
The singing sand,
That guard the way to Paradise

Well, Grant can't seem to let the vision of the young man in the compartment, nor his poem, go. So, he calls up an old friend from Scotland Yard to fill him on. Allegedly, the young man is one Charles Martin and he fell over in his compartment and cracked his skull on the sink. Somehow, he'd managed to crawl onto his bed before he expired.

As for the singing sands and such like, perhaps they refer to one or several of the islands west of the coast of Scotland. Singing sands, walking rocks and the way to paradise all appear to have a place in Gaelic folk lore. So, for a few days Grant goes off to the most likely island to have a look around.

But, he also places an ad in the London papers asking for information about the poem. He gets lots of crank replies, of course, but also one seemingly serious one from a young flyer named Tad Cullen. It seems that the poem stirred a rembrance of Cullen's best buddy, Bill Kenrick. It seems that Cullen and Kenrick were to meet in Paris the day the dead young man was found in Grant's train. Furthermore, Kenrick looks somewhat like the dead young man, allegedly a Frenchman, Charles Martin.

Cullen seems to think the poem might have something to do with Arabia, so Grant goes off interviewing experts in Arabian exploration.

Well, I've already droned on too long, so I'll stop. This is really a quite interesting and well written story. I think it's the third by Tey that I've read, and her work is a cut above the standard "mystery" novel. I'll surely read more of her work.

( )
  lgpiper | Jun 21, 2019 |
Inspector Alan Grant is recovering from a nervous breakdown. He's on the night train to Scotland to visit his cousin's family, and he's on hand when the conductor discovers that another passenger has died in his compartment. This unexplained death turns out to be just what Grant needs to take his mind off his troubles and regain his mental health. Grant inadvertently took away the dead man's newspaper, and a scribbled rhyme sets him on a search for the singing sands.

The locations and the cast of characters are enjoyable. I especially liked Grant's cousin's young son, who seemed to be a middle-aged soul in a child's body. Reading this book was bittersweet because it was my last experience of reading a Tey novel for the first time. From now on, they will all be re-reads. ( )
  cbl_tn | Aug 4, 2018 |
The beasts that talk,
The streams that stand,
The stones that walk,
The singing sands,

That guard the way to Paradise

This cryptic verse sends him on a hunt for the murderer of a fellow passenger on a train he is taking to Scotland. He is travelling there to recover from a nervous breakdown, where he will stay with friends. This verse takes him to the Hebrides, to France, and to London. A classic of the genre. I've read only one other of Tey's mysteries, but consider this the better of the two--unexpected twists and turns galore.

Most highly recommended. ( )
1 vote janerawoof | Mar 19, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tey, Josephineprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Allié, ManfredTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Andel, Pn. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Barnard, RobertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bliss, HarryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bouman, BertCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hendriks, TejoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kalvas, ReijoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kalvas, ReijoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lagerson, RolfCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Li, CherlynneCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Manso, LeoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McDermid, ValIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Neuhaus, VolkerAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, MarkIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorén, ErikCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorne, StephenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Westrup, Jadwiga P.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It was six o'clock of a March morning, and still dark.
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In the last of Tey's Inspector Grant mysteries, her sleuth investigates a death made suspicious by a few enigmatic lines, apparently scribbled by the deceased before his demise. Grant's enquiries take him to the remote Hebrides, where the bizarre circumstances of the death begin to become clear.

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On sick leave from Scotland Yard, Inspector Alan Grant is planning a quiet holiday with an old school chum to recover from overwork and mental fatigue. Traveling on the night train to Scotland, however, Grant stumbles upon a dead man and a cryptic poem about "the stones that walk" and "the singing sand," which send him off on a fascinating search into the verse's meaning and the identity of the deceased. Despite his doctor's orders, Grant needs just this sort of casual inquiry to quiet his jangling nerves. But what begins as a leisurely pastime eventually turns into a full-blown investigation that leads Grant to discover not only the key to the poem but the truth about a most diabolical murder.


On his train journey back to Scotland for a well-earned rest, Inspector Grant learns that a fellow passenger, one Charles Martin, has been found dead. It looks like a case of misadventure — but Grant is not so sure. Teased by some enigmatic lines of verse that the deceased had apparently scrawled on a newspaper, he follows a trail to the Outer Hebrides. And though it is the end of his holiday, it is also the beginning of an intriguing investigation into the bizarre circumstances shrouding Charles Martin's death...

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