At two a.m. a young man appears in the Geneva city center with symptoms of poisoning. Soon afterward he dies in the hospital, and days later a pharmacist is fatally poisoned as well. Suspicion falls on a prominent professor who enjoys great local esteem, but is addicted to morphine and was in close contact with the victims. Simpson O’Key, a British secret agent posing as a journalist, involves himself in the city’s police investigation. He soon learns that a maharaja from an Indian border province is in Geneva, the League of Nations’ headquarters, to sell his country’s oil resources– a matter of great interest to the British and the Soviets. And then he hears rumors of three old ladies who like to drink tea…
The Swiss writer Friedrich Glauser, founder of serious German-language crime fiction, first tried his hand at the genre in 1931 with this sprawling work set in Geneva, filled with local color and international intrigue. This is the first English-language translation. Although “Der Tee” is not considered to be as well-crafted a detective novel as Glauser’s five famous “Studer” mysteries, the very features that led to its rejection in the 1930’s make it an entertaining read today: a kaleidoscopic mix of characters, psychiatric medicine, secret agents, mysticism, narcotics, poisons, and social commentary, presented with a self-aware wink of the eye at the genre’s conventions.
The Three Old Ladies’ Tea
Translated from the German by Peter Kalinin