Friday, 7 December 2001

Josephine Tey: Brat Farrar (1949)

Edition: Penguin, 1980
Review number: 1007

Tey's famous novel takes a theme common in Gothic fiction, impersonation of an heir, and creates a mystery story which more or less renders the idea unusable in the future without reference to her writing. Brat Farrar is a foundling who has been working on a ranch in the States; returning to the England where he grew up, he is accosted by a stranger. Alec Loding at first believed him to be his cousin Patrick Ashby, the heir to the family estate who had gone missing seven years earlier. Now he would be about to come of age, and once Loding believes that Brat (a corruption of Bartholemew) is not Patrick he comes up with an audacious plan to train him in every aspect of Patrick's life so that he could turn up and take the farm from his younger twin brother Simon.

While most of the Ashby family accept Brat as Patrick, Simon seems certain that he cannot be, not because of his resentment or because he has caught him out but for some other reason which seems to Brat to be not just menacing but slightly ominous, clearly connected to the reason for Patrick's disappearance. Brat's feelings about this are contrasted throughout the novel with his growing appreciation of becoming part of a family, and this is one of the reasons why Brat Farrar is so successful.

The reader knows from the start that Brat is an impostor, and so the interest of the novel lies in two areas: we want to know what happened to the real Patrick Ashby, and we want to know if Brat can carry off the deception. It is a far fetched story, but Tey makes it fascinating and believeable; and that is why this is a great thriller.

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