The mystery writer Josephine Tey was born as Elizabeth MacKintosh in Inverness, Scotland on July 25, 1896.
As Josephine Tey (her great-great grandmother’s name) MacKintosh wrote seven mystery novels, five of which star Chief Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard.
Tey wrote during the Golden Age of mystery books. It was a particularly Golden Age for women crime novelists such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh.
Miss Pym Disposes (1946), The Franchise Affair (1948), and Brat Farrar (1949) have become classics of the genre, but she is best known for the ground-breaking crossover novel The Daughter of Time (1951), an undoubted masterpiece of British crime fiction, and her final book, published shortly before her death
In the novel Chief Inspector Grant is laid up in the hospital with a broken leg. He is reading about King Richard III and he becomes obsessed with proving that Richard was innocent of the murder of “the Princes in the Tower.”
The Daughter of Time (the title comes from a quote from Sir Francis Bacon: “Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority.”) is a very modern-seeming book, as Grant, physically immobilized, has friends bring him books and documents and probes doctors and nurses on their medical opinions of the facts.
One critic said of it: “In one sense the most static crime novel imaginable, it is also one of the most riveting.” (Spoiler: Grant finds Richard III innocent.)
Josephine Tey was not MacKintosh’s only pseudonym. In her early years she wrote plays in London under the name of Gordon Daviot. Richard of Bordeaux (1932), The Laughing Woman (1934), and Queen of Scots (1934) were performed in London’s West End.
Richard of Bordeaux was particularly successful, running for 14 weeks and making a star out of its young lead, John Gielgud. Gielgud and Tey remained lifelong friends and he always playfully called her Gordon. (Her family called her Beth; she was Mac to her friends.)
John Gielgud as Richard II in Richard of Bordeaux
Tey was an intensely shy and private person who found London life disconcerting. She trained as a teacher and physical health specialist and taught at several schools in England before returning to Inverness at the age of 25 to care for her elderly mother.
After her mother’s death she stayed on to look after her father until his death in 1950. Tey (or MacKintosh) died less than two years later, in 1952 from liver cancer.
In 1990 The Daughter of Time was chosen as the greatest mystery novel of all time by the British Crime Writers’ Association. The Franchise Affair was 11th.
Val McDermid, Scotland’s most prominent female crime writer, recently said that she sees Tey as a bridge between the Golden Age writers and modern practioners.
“Tey opened up the possibility of unconventional secrets,” she wrote. “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.”