ⓘ A Shilling for Candles is a 1936 mystery novel by Josephine Tey about the investigation of the drowning of a film actress, known as Christine Clay. It is the se ..


ⓘ A Shilling for Candles

A Shilling for Candles is a 1936 mystery novel by Josephine Tey about the investigation of the drowning of a film actress, known as Christine Clay. It is the second of Teys five mysteries starring Inspector Alan Grant, and the first book written under the Josephine Tey pseudonym. The plot draws extensively on Teys experience in working with actors in her play Richard of Bordeaux, which was produced in Londons West End in 1933 starring John Gielgud and Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, and on her work as a contract writer in Hollywood.


1. Plot

The body of a woman, Christine Clay nee Christina Gotobed is discovered at the edge of the surf on a beach in Kent. She is initially thought to be the victim of a drowning accident, but the presence of a button tangled in her hair leads Inspector Grant to conclude she has been murdered. Suspicion quickly falls on her house guest, Robert Tisdall, who admits to having stolen Clays car and then regretted it and returned. Tisdall had been Clays guest for 4 days at the time of the murder, in a cottage that she had rented in secret to have an anonymous holiday. He inherited a fortune but has squandered it, and was rescued from a life of poverty when Clay randomly encountered him in London and offered him hospitality out of kindness. She did not tell him her name, instructing him to call her "Chris". Clays identity is revealed when Jason Harmer, her songwriter, arrives at the cottage having tracked down its location from a clue in a letter he received from her. Once her identity becomes public Lydia Keats, an astrologist, receives considerable attention for having correctly predicted that Clay would drown.

The day before the murder, Clay wrote to her lawyer instructing him to add a codicil to her will bequeathing a small portion of her estate - a ranch in California and several thousand pounds - to Tisdall. The bulk of her estate is left to "maintain the beauty of the English countryside". Tisdall claims not to have known about the bequest to him. Although it goes against his intuition, Grant is convinced of Tisdalls guilt by the motive provided by the bequest. Another suspicious circumstance is that Tisdalls coat, which had buttons similar to the one found in Clays hair, has been stolen. Furthermore, none of Clays friends knows of the cottage, except for her husband and the owner of the cottage, another film star.

Grant decides to arrest Tisdall, but he escapes. Later, Tisdall is discovered by Erica Burgoyne, the 16-year-old daughter of the local Chief Constable. Erica believes Tisdalls story about his coat, and sets out to find it. She discovers that a tramp was in the neighborhood on the day the coat was stolen, and tracks him through the fact that he mends china. The coat she recovers has no missing buttons, leading Grant to conclude that Tisdall is innocent. However, Tisdall cannot be found and anxiety mounts regarding his safety.

Grant is left back at square one. He next investigates Clays brother Herbert Gotobed, who turns out to be a con man with a history of posing as a religious prophet, and Clays husband, Lord Edward Champneis. Champneis arouses suspicion by failing to account for his whereabouts on the night before the murder, but Grant is reluctant to confront him. Grant tracks Gotobed to a monastery in Canterbury, close to Clays cottage, where he is on the point of being given control of a large amount of money as Prior to the brotherhoods Mexican mission. Eventually Gotobed is arrested, though not for his sisters murder, and extradited to the US. Champneiss suspicious behavior turns out to be due to an effort to help a political exile to obtain sanctuary in the UK. Tisdall re-surfaces, having hidden in an attic for several days; he is feverish and on the point of pneumonia but recovers.

At a loss for the next step, Grant decides to get a haircut. While waiting, he happens across an article in an old magazine that points out how celebrated Lydia Keats will be if her prediction of death by drowning for a film star -- not identified in the article -- comes true, and hints that the star should not go swimming with Keats for fear she might be tempted to make her prediction a reality. He telephones the cottages owner and discovers that he mentioned Clays tenancy of the cottage to Keats, forgetting that it was supposed to be a secret. Keats has a motorboat that could have given her easy access to the beach where Clay was killed. Grant investigates and finds a coat in the motorboat that is missing a button on one sleeve. He confronts Keats. She raves about her infallibility and the glorious destiny predicted for her by the stars, and is taken away by the police surgeon. The final scene of the book is a dinner party attended by Grant, Tisdall and the Burgoynes, at which Grant is happy to see that Erica has not become inappropriately attracted to Tisdall.


2. Adaptations

The novel was adapted for the film Young and Innocent in 1937 by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Nova Pilbeam and Derrick De Marney. It was also dramatised as a radio play by the BBC in 1954 and 1998 The 1998 adaptation by John Fletcher dispenses with much of the plot, changes the identity of the murderer, and presents the remaining narrative as a Wodehousian romantic romp.


3. Parallels with authors life

Marta Hallard is believed to be based on Marda Vanne, whose partner Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies was the leading lady in Richard of Bordeaux. Like Christine Clay, Elizabeth MacKintosh left the bulk of her money to the National Trust


4. Publication history

First published in 1936 by Methuen Publishing in London. First American edition in 1954 from The Macmillan Company, New York. ISBN 0099576325; ISBN 9780099576327.

Explanation of title

Clays will includes the bequest "To my brother Herbert, a shilling for candles". Herbert is a con man who poses as religious. Grant comments that this bequest is the only sign of real enmity he has discovered in Clays relationships.

  • servant, working for the family as a maid on the same ship as Peter Folger and his parents. Peter Folger paid Hugh Peters the sum of 20 shillings to pay off
  • Maids in white Aprons Say the bells of St Catherine s. You owe me ten shillings Say the bells of St. Helen s. When will you pay me? Say the bells at
  • Thomson. Subscription for a year cost five shillings By the early 1950s the society had almost 2000 members. In 1954 they launched a literary magazine
  • Low Lights were each lit by three tallow candles Copper reflectors were added in 1736, and in 1773 the candles were replaced by oil lamps. The Low Light
  • as they were known, were a mendicant order, which means that they relied on donations to keep food on the table, candles burning, and the work of the
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  • bare - footed as shoes were too expensive 5 d was deducted for being late and a shilling for having a burnt match on the workbench. The women and girls involved
  • history decides to twist it. She makes a deal with Burt: she ll give him two shillings in exchange for the dime he keeps one and gives the other
  • 45, and there was a single lamp in the Shire of South Barwon. The street lights used gave the equivalent light of 15 sperm candles for each 5 cubic feet
  • dawn light because he was too poor to buy candles He was apprenticed to a bookseller, at the sum of 4 shillings a week. Robert, also an avid reader, could
  • Road, Prospect The court found for the plaintiff, but only awarded him damages of one shilling The case aroused a great deal of public sympathy, and

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