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Literature / A Shilling for Candles

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A Shilling for Candles is a mystery novel by Josephine Tey, first published in 1936. It is her second mystery novel, and the second to feature Inspector Grant of Scotland Yard.

Christine Clay, a famous actress, is found dead on a beach in Kent, where she was on holiday. Suspicion fixes on Robert Tisdall, a destitute young man she had met on her way to Kent and impulsively invited to join her. Tisdall goes on the run, and receives unexpected assistance from Erica Burgoyne, the daughter of the local chief constable. Inspector Grant's investigations produce several other suspects, including a songwriter rumored to be Christine's lover, who was in Kent on the morning in question and is known to have lied about his movements, and Christine's brother, with whom she had a bad history and whom she cut off in her will with nothing but "a shilling for candles".


The novel inspired the 1937 Alfred Hitchcock film Young and Innocent, which minimizes the mystery aspect and focuses on Robert Tisdall and Erica Burgoyne as they try to clear Robert's name.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Bad Habits: One of the characters is a con man who first appears dressed as a monk. (It turns out that he is genuinely, though not sincerely, a member of a small religious order, which he joined with the intention of sweet-talking his way into a position of authority from which he could embezzle its assets.)
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Inspector Grant solves the murder after idly picking up and flicking through a gossip magazine with Christine on the front cover, finding the detail that brings everything together in one of the articles that isn't about Christine. He immediately rushes off to close the case, leaving the owner of the magazine bemused.
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  • Gut Feeling: Inspector Grant is a good instinctive judge of character.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Inspector Grant's sidekick's reaction after the killer's Villainous Breakdown.
  • Multiple Identity IDs: One of the characters is a con artist who has run religious scams across the world. When the police catch up with him, they find among his belongings four passports from three different countries, all with different names.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: Christine's will leaves nothing to her last surviving relative but "a shilling for candles". We don't get to see his reaction to learning this, but Inspector Grant is much impressed by the amount of ill-feeling it suggests.
  • Red Herring: The entire subplot referenced in the title. Inspector Grant is much struck by the fact that the murder victim cut off her last surviving relative with only "a shilling for candles", and spends some considerable effort tracking down the relative — who turns out to be a thoroughly bad lot, and wanted by the police on other charges, but unconnected to the murder.
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  • Ruritania: There are several passing mentions of a fictional Eastern European nation that is suffering through a civil war between several ethnic groups who are all trying to establish a homeland there. It's not directly connected to the murder, but turns out to be related to why one of the suspects was behaving suspiciously on the day in question.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: Robert Tisdall is astonished to discover that on the day before her death, Christine added a codicil to her will leaving him several thousand dollars and one of her properties in America. This intended kind gesture causes him a great deal of trouble in the short run, as the police assume he knew about it and consider it his motive.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The killer has one on being confronted by Inspector Grant, and winds up having to be sedated and carted off in an ambulance.


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