RogerBW's Blog

The Franchise Affair, Josephine Tey 05 September 2023

1948 mystery. Robert Blair is a solicitor in a country town, settling comfortably into middle age. Then the two odd women who've moved into the impractical and isolated house known as The Franchise find themselves accused of kidnapping and torture…

Inspector Alan Grant is present, though not much so: he's the policeman in charge of the case, having to shepherd it from an unproven complaint via public outrage to a court case with the prospect of a long sentence of imprisonment. He's reluctant at best, though he has a job to do and will do it.

Instead the narrative follows Blair, who's retained by the two with initial reluctance, and comes to find himself increasingly in sympathy with them. Yes the victim is a "good girl", yes she was missing for several weeks, yes she turned up at home badly beaten and wearing only a dress and shoes… but the supposed perpetrators assert that they've never met her, and somehow they seem rather more plausible.

Or might it just be class prejudice? The book is late enough that this is a thing people think of; after all, the upper middle classes can be offenders, and the lower middle classes can be offended against. (Tey's sympathies are clearly the other way, but she tries to be fair.) And until the very last moment, while there is certainly indicative information and character evidence, there's nothing good enough to take to court.

(Tey also does plenty of complaining about how terrible it is that post-war England isn't the way it was before; she's a good writer, but as with Christie this can get dreary at times. Yes, I get it, you don't approve of the social order changing. And?)

While there's plenty of investigation, this is mostly a story of character, Robert realising how much his world has congealed (comfortably enough) around his outline, and Marion Sharpe who might be his lifeline back into reality but isn't here to play the Manic Pixie Dream Girl for anyone. (And her mother, the nice old lady who has seen it all and isn't surprised by any depth of human wickedness.)

Damn the woman, she had no right to make a silly generalisation like that and be right about it.

It's also a story of rumour and how outrage can be whipped up out of nearly nothing, though that won't be any surprise to people reading in the post-truth era. And of how some people will reject the popular narrative for the most trivial of reasons.

"Reminds me of a bint I had in Egypt. Same far-apart eyes. Nice kid she was. Told the most original lies."

Freely available from Project Gutenberg Australia.

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Previous in series: A Shilling for Candles | Series: Inspector Grant | Next in series: To Love and Be Wise

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