Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey was written a year after The Franchise Affair and is a mystery without a detective. I’ve mentioned before that Josephine Tey’s books are very original, and Brat Farrar is no exception. Tey’s detective, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, doesn’t even get a mention in this book, and in fact, it’s the criminal who stumbles upon the mystery and is instrumental in solving it.
The five Ashby children are orphaned when their parents are killed in a plane crash eight years before the story commences. Twin boys, Patrick and Simon, their sister Eleanor, and the younger twins, Jane and Ruth, are placed under the guardianship of their Aunt Bee after the tragedy, but about a year later, thirteen year old Patrick disappears. All the evidence points to suicide by drowning.
The story begins as Simon, now twenty-one years of age, is preparing for his ‘coming of age,‘ the time when he will inherit the family fortune. A stranger (introduced to the reader earlier as Brat Farrar) arrives claiming to be Patrick, the firstborn of the twins, and therefore the legal heir.
Tey uses an intriguing approach with this story and it was not at all what I was expecting. The reader knows from the start that Farrar is an impostor. We are privy to his chance meeting with Alec Loding, a young actor who knew the family intimately and who had been astounded by Farrar’s uncanny resemblance to Simon; we learn about Farrar’s life up until this point, the scheme Loding presents to him, the objections he raises and what causes him to finally acquiesce.
Well, there was no going back now, whether he wanted to or not. That insistent voice that had talked to him in the dark of his room had fought for its head and got it. All he could do was sit in the saddle and hope for the best. But at least it would be a breath-taking ride; a unique, heart-stopping ride. Danger to life and limb he was used to; but far more exciting was this new mental danger, this pitting of wits.
This danger to his immortal soul…But he had never believed in his immortal soul.
Tey reveals more of Farrar’s personality as he moves into the Ashby family home, and before long the reader begins to feel an empathy with the young man. But how was this going to work out? Tey wouldn’t let an impostor get away with his crime, would she?
Apparently Tey was an accomplished gymnast and I think her physical agility was mirrored in her mental ability (see this article for an example).
Tey’s insight and shrewd understanding of the human personality oozes out of her writing and in this case she explores what it means to belong. I love how she handles this.
Bee drank the remains of her coffee. ‘Come on, Brat!’ she said, putting out her hand and pulling him to his feet…
She led Brat out of the room, laughing at him, and still hand in hand with him. The warm friendliness of her clasp sent a rush of emotion through him that he could not identify. It was nothing like he had so far experienced in life.
Another aspect of Tey’s writing that I’ve enjoyed in all her books so far is her humour. I thought this a delightful little vignette – Brat comes upon a young woman who has been trying to get Simon’s attention by feigning an interest in horse riding:
‘I suppose you wouldn’t put in a good word for me with Simon? It would be such a pity to waste all the agony I’ve gone through trying to interest him.’
‘You don’t suppose I endure hours on those horrible quadrupeds just for fun, do you?…I suppose you’ve ridden horses since you could crawl, so you have no idea what it is like to be bumped about on a great shapeless mountain of a thing that’s far too high from the ground and has nothing to hold on to. It looks so easy when Simon does it. The horse looks so nice and narrow when you’re standing on the ground. You think you could ride it the way you ride a bicycle. It’s only when you get up you find that its back is simply acres across and you can make no impression on it at all. You just sit there and are bumped about, and your legs slip backwards and forwards instead of staying still like Simon’s, and you get large blisters and can’t sit down in the bath for weeks.’
Need I say I highly recommend this book??
Brat Farrar was reprinted in the USA as Come and Kill Me.