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Review: The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

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Josephine Tey’s murder mysteries are still so popular that she has been made into a fictional sleuth! While reading book blogs a few weeks back I fell upon a post that reviewed or included a Tey mystery and said to myself: “That’s just what I need–a Josephine Tey.” I looked up the e-audio versions offered by my library and downloaded The Man in the Queue immediately started listening.

The first jolt was shocking. Of course books that old use words that are not P.C., but not knowing it was coming, its use shocked me. The thing is, like with the N-word, [which is NOT the word used in this book] people used ethnic slurs fully knowing they were slurs–it was just more acceptable to slur ethnic groups back in the day. I stopped and went to Amazon to the Kindle preview. It stopped before the first utterance. Smart marketing. I dug further–this time in Amazon UK’s preview. There it was! I tried search inside the book and got 36 results!!!! I can go with one or two instances, but 36 puts me off my game. I lost interest.

Yet, here is what happens in the book: A man is killed in the line for standing-room-only entrance to the theater on last night of hugely popular performance.  Killed, will a small silver dagger from a Southern European country often mentioned with either the Pope of the Mafia–killed possibly with the left hand. A beautiful, left-handed actress is in the show. Inspector Alan Grant is soon on the job!

You can see what should have been a great murder mystery! I went back to the previews and dug deeper. The American one had been “updated” [and was obviously NOT the version I got on audio]. Even a chapter name in the British [original] version was only the ethnic slur. It is true that sensitivity to words varies from country to country, culture to culture. America IS the obvious epicenter of all things P.C. and now, also of all things woke.

As a librarian I defend books from censorship. I caution readers not to throw out a good book because of one or two utterances of a now objectionable term. But 36 really is a bit much. I’m always perplexed. Should the book be updated with a footnote explaining it? I am opposed to changing an author’s work without any explanation. A situation like this though seems to merit intervention–but with an explanation.

What’s your opinion? Am I too thin-skinned? Is it ok to update–with a note? Without? Obviously this IS a book that has an updated version. Tey is popular enough still to  now be a fictional character herself. It was acceptable at the time to use that word, though even in 1929 36 instances is pushing things.

My Reviews of Other Josephine Tey books

Daughter of Time and Brat Farrar

4 thoughts on “Review: The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

  1. Hmmmm, interesting and that does 36 uses does seem excessive. Is the author black? I know blacks often refer to each other that way, but not good for outsiders. It’s a dilemma. I’m not big on changing history either. So again, hmmmmm ….

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  2. 36 uses does sound excessive even allowing for the fact that the particular term was perfectly acceptable at the time the book was written. I gather that this is an early novel of hers so maybe she was more judicious later on in her career.

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