First published in 1946, this novel isn't a conventional murder mystery and doesn't feature Tey's detective Inspector Alan Grant. Rather, the Miss Pym of the title serves the function of detective, without actually being one - either amateur or professional - at all. Rather, she's a high school teacher turned best-selling author of a pop psychology book who visits an old friend who is now the principal of a women's physical training college. Miss Pym becomes interested in the lives and personalities of the college students and their teachers and ultimately becomes embroiled in what on the surface appears to be an accident, but which which may well prove to be a crime.
This particular incident does not take place until about three quarters of the way through the novel. Tey builds up to it slowly, through a series of psychological portraits of the characters as they interact with each other and with Miss Pym. Tey's prose is witty and sharp and and her character development is excellent.* In addition, the narrative contains touches which will mean something to readers who know about Tey and her interests. For example, the description of Shakespeare's [b:Richard III|42058|Richard III|William Shakespeare|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328043960s/42058.jpg|2913597] as "[a] criminal libel on a fine man, a blatant piece of political propaganda, and an extremely silly play" reflects Tey's views about Richard III, later set out in her 1951 novel [b:The Daughter of Time|77661|The Daughter of Time|Josephine Tey|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1307325271s/77661.jpg|3222080]. There are also references to actors and acting, something with which Tey, who also wrote plays using the name Gordon Daviot, was very familiar.
In reading this novel I learned a lot about women's physical training colleges in England in the early part of the 20th century. It's interesting to learn about something I hadn't known existed before, but after reading this book it's arguable that I now know too much about the subject. Tey attended a physical training college and taught physical training at schools in England and Scotland before becoming a writer, so I suppose she wrote about what she knew.
A novel which features apparently criminal behaviour set in a women's college and having as its central characters a number of students and teachers invites comparison with Dorothy L Sayers'[b:Gaudy Night|93575|Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey, #12)|Dorothy L. Sayers|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348009463s/93575.jpg|341789]. Frankly, this novel comes off very much second best in that comparison: it lacks the depth and passion which Sayers brought to her work. That said, characterising the novel as [b:Gaudy Night|93575|Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey, #12)|Dorothy L. Sayers|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348009463s/93575.jpg|341789]-lite does Tey an injustice. It's an engaging read, although quite slow-paced, with an interesting central protagonist and an unexpected twist at the end. (Well, I thought that there probably would be a twist, but I didn't anticipate that particular one.)
I read the book with my friend Jemidar, which is always a delight. It gets 3 stars for the plot and an extra half star for the excellence of the writing.
*That said, I think it could be argued that in developing the psychological portraits of her characters, Tey relied much too heavily on physiognomy as a reliable indicator of character. This is also very much a factor in [b:The Daughter of Time|77661|The Daughter of Time|Josephine Tey|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1307325271s/77661.jpg|3222080].