Miss Pym Disposes
PublisherThe Folio Society
Date Published03 December 2018
Price£ 32.99

Miss Pym Disposes

by Josephine Tey

Miss Pym, who has recently published a best-selling book on psychology, is invited by an old friend to give a lecture at a girls' school that specialises in dance and physical training. She accepts an invitation to stay on for a few days – a decision that she subsequently regrets.


Crime novels from the 1930s and 1940s are normally concerned with a murder followed by a gradual and frequently technical exposition of how it was carried out and, of course, who was responsible. This kind of literature became known as the ‘whodunit?’ in which the attention paid to the final outcome was often at the expense of the characterisation. At its worse the plot itself – and its final denouement – lack any real interest because the people involved simply do not engage the attention. Such is definitely not the case with Miss Pym Disposes.

It had never been Lucy Pym's intention to stay more than one night at Leys Physical Training College. Originally the arrangement had been that, as a best-selling author of a book on psychology, she should deliver a lecture to the girls. However, her old school friend, Henrietta, the college principal, manages to persuade her to stay for a few more days. Gradually the few more days turn into a longer stay, which is finally interrupted by a tragic event.

We are introduced to a number of the girls, all of whom take a liking to Miss Pym, perhaps because she is not staff but an outsider who brings something a little different into their lives. In addition to the pupils we have the teachers, each of whom is given a full and rounded personality in very few words. It is an indication of the author's skill in forming her characters that, whilst the crime and its resolution occur very late in the novel, we are always interested in the girls – and the staff – themselves and never have the feeling that we are waiting for something to happen. Dakers, the Nut Tart and the Four Apostles all keep us amused and the relationship between Miss Pym and Beau Nash in particular piques our curiosity.

Even when the story takes a darker turn it manages to avoid the clichés associated with the average whodunit, and the thought processes of Miss Pym as she seeks to consult her conscience are totally convincing and precisely what we might expect from an expert in psychology. Eventually, however, she is obliged to conclude that “as a psychologist she is a first-rate teacher of French”, having failed to pick up the small clues that might have enabled her to understand earlier. It is a truism that crime does not pay, but that it should not be paid for either is not a concept with which the average reader of crime fiction will be familiar. We have long been taught that man proposes whilst God disposes but we find no difficulty in accepting Miss Pym's decision to undertake the disposing herself.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable novel, one that is not afraid to take its time in order to provide the reader with a real sense of the period. It is also, in the Folio Society edition, available only from them, a book that is a handsome addition to any library.

Reviewed 08 December 2018 by Arnold Taylor