Detective Inspector Alan Grant has been suffering from bad attacks of claustrophobia, so much so that he's been given a leave of absence. He heads to Scotland to stay with his cousin and her family for a few weeks. As the train pulls in to his destination he passes a compartment where the dead body of a young man is just being discovered. Alan inadvertantly picks up a newspaper belonging to the dead man and later discovers a poem he had started in the margins. Intrigued, Alan can't help himself, he has to find out more about who the young man was.
The death is declared an accident, the man had fallen while drunk and hit his head. He was one, Charles Martin, and apparently French. For some inexplicable reason, Alan Grant doesn't believe a word of it. He's supposed to be recovering from an illness, taking it easy, fishing, relaxing, but he can't. Something is just not right about this incident. The trail leads him to an island in The Hebrides to find 'the singing sands' in the poem written by a dead man and thus on to a discovery he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams.
I'm so sorry that this is the last Alan Grant book - I've loved them all, although my favourite was The Franchise Affair. The Singing Sands had a wonderful sense of place, the Highlands of Scotland, absolutely one of my favourite 'places' of all. Alan Grant on holiday was a joy. I loved his cousin, Laura, and her husband, and son, Pat... with his Scottish accent that no one can understand, hero worshipping Alan. Delightful. Poor Alan though is suffering from a bad dose of claustophobia and this is very well depicted. He suffers agonies on the train journey for instance as he forces himself not to open his carriage door during the night. Car journeys are a particular trial and one scene where he has to force himself not to ask the driver to stop and let him out is particularly affective and well written.
The thing that made this story for me though was the investigation. It was fascinating to follow Alan as he made painstaking progress with his inquiries, never giving up even though many of them led nowhere. This is not a hard-hitting, serial killer sort of a crime yarn, it's a gentle, intellectual exercise as one clue after another is followed up and either discounted or added to the stockpile of information. Where it all eventually led was completely unexpected... not the kind of thing I've ever seen in a crime story before. Huge fun.
As I said, it's a shame this is the last Alan Grant book. Josephine Tey only wrote six in the series, this last one published the year of her death in 1952, she was only 56. I still have a stand alone, Brat Farrar, to read and a couple of others that I don't own. What a class act she was as a writer, one of my favourites now, several of her books I will definitely reread.