Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

miss pym

In the winter of 2008 I served on my very first jury. The case was at the Superior Court of Maricopa County in Phoenix and the defendant was a twenty-five -year old man who was accused of auto theft. He had stolen a truck from an apartment complex and when he was pulled over by police he claimed that he had bought the truck from a homeless man. He couldn’t produce any proof of the sale and was completely unconvincing when he gave testimony. When we met in the jury room to deliberate his fate the right decision was obvious, however most of the jury had a very hard time making it. The problem was knowing that he was the sole caretaker of his two-year-old son. It was a simple case, really, and our verdict should have been made quickly, but knowing about the son just bothered so many of us. After much debate we did decide to convict him, but not without heartbreak and sadness. On the shuttle back to our parking garage there was sobbing and second guessing. I know there were several jurors who felt we did the wrong thing – did stealing a car really warrant sentencing a man to prison and forcing him to abandon his son?

In Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes, Lucy Pym faces a similar dilemma. She’s a middle-aged recently famous author, highly sought after since publishing a book on popular psychology. An old friend from school, Henrietta, invites her to speak at the physical training college (it’s the 1940’s) where she is headmistress and Miss Pym decides to stay on a while after her engagement is over. She is fascinated by the young, energetic, beautiful girls who work diligently all day at dancing, games, gymnastics and learning anatomy. She also loves the peaceful and calm environment yet puzzles at the quiet competition and subtle dislike among many of the girls. It is a perfect setting to study human psychology.

PE College
Students at a physical training college in Brisbane, early fifties.

And this really is what the novel is about. There is a murder, but it doesn’t occur until the book is nearly over. The goal of this book is to examine the mixture of different personalities, events and resentments that lead to murder and lies. Because Miss Pym is observant and interested in motives she is caught in the middle of the tragedy and is painfully compelled to either reveal or conceal the knowledge she has about who the murderer is. And though she wants to do the right thing she debates if ruining the life of a mostly decent young woman is worth the life that was taken. Is it worth sentencing a young woman to death when she can potentially do much good in the world?

Josephine Tey’s characters are so lively and vibrant and her humor is very enjoyable. I can tell that like her wonderful creation Miss Pym, Tey was hugely interested in human nature. I am, too, so this book was a delight for me. If character exploration and a slow burning plot make you crazy than this isn’t the book for you. If you like moral dilemmas and wonderful character development than it most certainly is.

I just checked out The Franchise Affair by Tey and am really looking forward to it. Have you read Tey? Do you have a favorite?

And also…have you ever served on a jury?

18 comments / Add your comment below

  1. This book sounds fascinating and exactly a type that I like. No I have never served on a jury, but enjoyed your story of how hard it would be to convict certain people, knowing their back story. It can be so complicated. I have not known about this author and will now try to find one of her books.

  2. This definitely sounds like a book I’d enjoy.

    Strangely enough, I have never been on a jury. I was summoned for a neighboring county years ago, but didn’t have to show up because I was not a resident. I may have slipped through the cracks in my home county.

    1. I was surprised to be chosen for the jury. My brother is a police officer and they usually don’t call relatives of law enforcement officers to serve – it just must have been meant to be!

  3. This one isn’t my favourite Tey, you can read what I said about it here http://piningforthewest.co.uk/?s=josephine+tey+miss+pym+disposes. It’s not much! The blatant favouritism annoyed me and if I recall correctly the relationship between teacher and student seemed a bit ‘iffy’ to me! I’ve read quite a lot of her books and so far The Daughter of Time is my favourite.
    I haven’t served on a jury yet, I’ve always dreaded it.

    1. How funny – the favoritism didn’t annoy me at all! It is so fascinating how different readers are affected by different aspects of books. I’ve heard so much good about The Daughter of Time so I must get to that one soon.

  4. The Franchise Affair is my favorite of the series mysteries, though I like The Daughter of Time very much as well. Brat Farrar is an extraordinary book.

    I served on one jury, in city court, on a case involving assault – pretty much a cat fight in a real estate office. Afterwards, one of the parties, tiff, whom we had ruled against, followed me out into the parking lot to quiz me about the case! I was sure I was about to become her next victim. Generally though I wind up not chosen – usually too far down the list. It’s always such an interesting process though.

    1. Oh my goodness! That is scary – but what an interesting case! I bet the testimonies were fascinating 🙂

      I plan to read all of the Tey novels – they sound so wonderful. I did read Brat Farrar many, many years ago and remember loving it. I hope I love it again on my re-read.

  5. I haven’t read anything by Tey or served on a jury although I was close to. I was called for jury service last year and was really worried about it as I wasn’t sure emotionally I’d handle it very well. Luckily for me I was excused on the day, I presume they already had enough people.

  6. I’ve never served on a jury, but I can see from your story that reaching a verdict isn’t as simple as it might seem, especially where children are involved. The only Josephine Tey book I’ve read is The Daughter of Time. This one sounds very different but I’m definitely interested in reading it.

    1. It was much harder to convict someone than I thought it would be. I still feel very sad about it, though I know it was the right thing to do. The guy is still in prison – I don’t think he gets out until next year.

  7. Daughter of Time is the only Tey I’ve read. They aren’t easy to find here but I do like the sound of this one as I enjoy school settings.

    1. Yes, the school setting was one of my favorite aspects of this novel. I liked reading about the physical training college and their curriculum.

  8. Thank you for your story, with what you had to consider it makes you think. I haven’t read Tey, but have seen The Daughter of Time around a lot and so am considering that one.

  9. You’ve beautifully summed up one of my favourite books. I’ve recently read Brat Farrar and would highly recommend it too. I could not put it down. (And, I’ve never served on a jury.)

Thank you for reading and commenting.

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