The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey: A-

Book description
The Franchise Affair resembles some of the best work of Poe in its introduction of an apparently inhuman evil in an otherwise sedate country setting. Robert Blair, a lawyer who prides himself on his ability to avoid work of any significance, is interrupted one evening by a phone call from Marion Sharpe. Ms. Sharpe and her mother live in a run-down estate known as the Franchise, and their lives drew little attention until Betty Kane charged them with an unthinkable crime. Ms. Kane, having disappeared for a month, now says that she was held captive in the attic of the Franchise during her entire absence.

While her story seems absurd, her recollection of minute details about the interior of the house sway even Scotland Yard. Blair—chosen by Ms. Sharpe for her defense because, as she says, he is “someone of my own sort”—must dust off his neurons and undertake some serious sleuthing if his client is to beat these serious charges. As with all fine mysteries, one has the sense of being in a sea of clues with a solution just out of reach.

After reading the first two Inspector Grant mysteries, I had trouble believing that the same author could produce The Daughter of Time, which I’ve heard referred to as a classic of the mystery genre. I am happy to say that The Franchise Affair has cured me of my doubts. While not perfect, it is still so much better than its predecessors that I am heartened.

Told from the point of view of humble country lawyer Robert Blair, The Franchise Affair is unusual in a couple of ways. For one, the crime in question is not murder. An innocent-looking schoolgirl accuses a couple of solitary women of holding her captive, and it’s up to Blair to investigate and help mount a defense. Also, Inspector Grant barely appears. As the book is at least nominally classed as an entry in the Inspector Grant series, I find it a bit odd that the one I like best so far features the title detective so little.

The Franchise Affair is full of likable characters. Blair has grown tired of his quiet, easy life, and is unexpectedly stimulated by the Sharpes’ case. He also grows very much to like the younger Miss Sharpe, an independent, warm, and witty woman. I am kind of a sucker for middle-aged romance, so I enjoyed how he went from thinking of her as Miss Sharpe, to Marion, and then to how he would do this or that once he had married her. Especially great are all of the qualities he likes her for, and that she isn’t forced to compromise on those qualities in the end. She also has a fun, feisty mother who proves a dab hand at giving betting tips for horse racing.

I also like the writing style. At times, it feels surprisingly modern for something written in 1948. It’s full of amusing turns of phrase and a gently ironic tone. I snickered several times, the first occasion being the third sentence, which was a good sign.

The end is not quite as good as the rest, as some improbable and very dramatic events occur. The way the trial plays out also seems a bit… unorthodox to me. It was around this point where I began to be reminded of watching an old movie, so I was compelled to look it up and, sure enough, this novel was made into a movie in 1951. Interesting factoid for Doctor Who fans: one of the workers at the garage where Blair keeps his car was played by Patrick Troughton.

On the whole, I found The Franchise Affair to be charming and enjoyable. Because of its nature, it would work quite well as a stand-alone, but has also restored my hopes for the quality of the others in the series.

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  1. […] the genuine enjoyment offered by The Franchise Affair, the previous book in Josephine Tey’s Inpspector Grant series, this next installment comes as […]

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