The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

Trial by media…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

The Franchise AffairRobert Blair’s life as a country solicitor is peaceful and contented, though just recently he’s been wondering if it isn’t just a little too contented. When he is contacted by Marion Sharp with a request for his help with a matter involving the police, his first reaction is to refer her to another lawyer specialising in criminal matters. But Miss Sharpe is adamant – she wants someone of her own class, and that means Robert. And the case sound intriguing, so Robert heads off to Miss Sharpe’s house, The Franchise, to meet her, her mother and Inspector Grant of Scotland Yard…

The Sharpes, mother and daughter, are eminently respectable ladies, though fairly new to the neighbourhood having inherited The Franchise just a few years earlier. So the story that schoolgirl Betty Kane tells sounds fantastical – she claims that the two women abducted her, locked her in their attic and tried to force her to work as their servant, doling out regular vicious beatings when she didn’t comply. The whole thing would have been written off as nonsensical, but for the fact that Betty is able to describe things in the house and grounds that she couldn’t possibly have known, since she had never been in the house for legitimate reasons. However, Grant can find no corroborating evidence and so the matter would have rested, except that the local crusading newspaper decided to take the matter up. Now the Sharpes are being vilified and harassed, and the matter is no longer only one of whether or not they will be prosecuted – it becomes imperative to prove that Betty is lying so as to clear their names completely. And for Robert it has become personal as he finds himself increasingly drawn to Marion.

Murder Mystery Mayhem Logo 2Challenge details:
Book: 87

Subject Heading: Fiction from Fact
Publication Year: 1948

This is considered a classic of crime fiction, and it fully deserves its reputation. Although it’s billed as an Inspector Grant novel, in fact he plays only a tiny part – the real “detective” is Robert, floundering a little out of his depth since he’s never had anything to do with the criminal side of the law before, but righteously determined to do everything in his power for his clients. He’s extremely likeable, and the ambiguity over Marion and Mrs Sharpe means that for most of the novel the reader doesn’t know whether to hope his romantic feelings for Marion will blossom, or whether he’s setting himself up for a broken heart. Marion and her mother are great characters – both opinionated individualists with a healthy cynicism about their society’s prejudices, but finding that when that society cuts one off, life, especially in a small town where everyone knows everyone else, rapidly becomes intolerable. Although the reader also finds it difficult to believe that they could be guilty, it’s equally hard to see why and how young Betty could have invented such a detailed and consistent story. It was long, long into the novel before I felt I could decide on the Sharpes’ innocence or guilt.

The writing is great and the plot is perfectly delivered. First published in 1948, the social attitudes are very much of their time, and it becomes pretty clear that Ms Tey was probably a good old-fashioned Tory snob whose ideas on class and politics ought to have roused my rage. But actually I found them amusing, and a great, if unintentional, depiction of that particular class of ultra-conservativism which still exists today, particularly in the letters page of The Telegraph and other newspapers read mainly by the retired colonels and maiden aunts of the Shires.

It’s also a wonderful picture of the kind of trial by media with which we are all too familiar, although it happens more slowly when people must write actual literate and grammatical letters to the newspapers and wait for them to be printed rather than firing off foul-mouthed libellous tweets, as we do now that we’re so much more advanced. Tey shows how quickly mob feelings can be aroused, and how easily some people will proceed to take what they would call justice into their own hands. She also shows, though, that there are decent people in the world who will rally round and help, even when it’s unpopular to do so.

Josephine-Tey-1934
Josephine Tey

I don’t want to risk any spoilers, so I’ll simply say that the gradual revelations are very well paced so that my attention never flagged, and I found the eventual resolution completely satisfying. But more than this, I found it a highly entertaining read with all the elements that make good vintage crime so enjoyable – an intriguing mystery, an atmosphere of building tension, a likeable protagonist who is neither alcoholic nor angst-ridden, a touch of romance, a sprinkling of humour. Great stuff! I now officially forgive Josephine Tey for boring me to death with The Daughter of Time and look forward to getting to know Inspector Grant and her better.

I downloaded this one from fadedpage.com – here’s the link.

58 thoughts on “The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

  1. I think I need to read this again, as I remember not being very impressed with it the first time. Your review brings out points that I don’t think I even noticed before (I’d like to say I read it as a teenager but in fact it was only a few years ago!) Your discussion of trial by media is especially interesting.

    I’ve been listening to an old Peter Temple mystery (Frances Durbridge) on Sounds and it’s full of 1950s snobbery/racism/sexism; Steve (his wife!) is only there to buy hats and have the plot explained to her. I agree though, you just have to accept the context and laugh.

    I haven’t read any other Tey books, though i do have some. I’ll steer clear of The Daughter of Time!

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    • I’ve been reading so much vintage crime recently that I think my brain has become more attuned to it – I seem to enjoy them more, the more I read of them. And I do find that my tolerance for the outdated attitudes has grown too – I find myself laughing and feeling glad that we’ve moved on rather than getting irritated by them now. Most of the time, anyway – an occasional one still goes way over my comfort line!

      I haven’t read many of the Frances Durbridge books, but I remember an ancient TV series of them when I was a kid and even back then the sexism seemed pretty strong. I wasn’t keen on the actor who played Temple either, which shouldn’t have put me off the books but did – it’s always him I think of in the role.

      Haha, I must say most people seem to love The Daughter of Time, so don’t let me put you off completely (even though I think it’s awful!). This one is great though…

      Thanks for popping in and commenting! 😀

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  2. Despite the classist bent, I would like to read this book, it seems entertaining in the best sense. Years back when I was travelling in Central America, and at a time I didn’t read any crime, I found a copy of The Singing Sands and remember being quite engrossed by it during a long bus trip. I wonder what I’d think of it now?

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    • I haven’t read The Singing Sands but it’s the one I’ve added to my wishlist to read next. Funnily enough it’s the only Tey my brother has read and he enjoyed it too, despite not being a crime reader. I think her psychological approach to crime makes her feel rather more modern than a lot of the vintage novelists, although her social attitudes date to somewhere back in the Dark Ages! She makes Agatha Christie seem like a rabid socialist… 😉

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  3. I read The Daughter of Time last month and although I liked many elements of it (and found it to be an interesting experiment) the writing was not exactly sparkling and I was surprised it had been voted the greatest crime novel of all time. I’m pleased to hear this is better!

    Tey’s social attitudes and snobbery are on full display in Daughter of Time – a real streak of authoritarianism as well – so I suspect that might be a common theme for her novels…

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    • I actually abandoned The Daughter of Time halfway through – I found the whole premise tedious, especially since obviously there could be no proper solution. Plus, I’m firmly in the camp who thinks Richard was guilty! But it was the dullness of it that put me off. This one never seemed dull to me – the pace was steady and kept me turning the pages. I never understand these “greatest” labels – they always seem to leave me scratching my head in bemusement…

      Haha, yes, I felt if she’d been much further to the right she might have fallen off the edge of the world!

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  4. It sounds like a very interesting book, especially the part of “trail by media”, but with letters in newspapers rather than a mix of humans, helped by trolls and bots. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed it so much.

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    • I enjoyed the trial by media aspect, especially since we tend to think it’s the invention of social media that has brought that about. But this was a reminder that newspapers were always stirring up sensation and scandal, and didn’t have much concern for the impact on the people involved. Maybe things weren’t better in the good old days after all… 😉

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  5. I’ve wanted to read this one, FictionFan, but just hadn’t. I can see I’m missing out, though. As I read your description, I was thinking about the similarities between the public reaction in this case, the public reaction in a lot of today’s cases, where people are vilified in the press and online media, regardless of the truth of what happened. It’s an interesting and sad commentary on the public, I suppose… At any rate, I’m glad the amateur sleuth is handled well here (and believably). To me, that’s not an easy thing to achieve.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I enjoyed the trial by media aspect, especially since we have a tendency to think that it only happens nowadays because of social media. But this showed that people always “trolled” other people, even if it all happened more slowly through the letters pages of newspapers rather than the immediacy of online abuse. The end result is pretty similar though! I think you’ll enjoy this one when you get to it – it’s very well done.

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  6. I quite enjoyed The Daughter of Time, but that’s probably because I’ve always been interested in the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. The only other Tey novel I’ve read is A Shilling for Candles, which I wasn’t all that impressed by. This one sounds much better!

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    • I don’t remember much about The Daughter of Time now except that I found it intensely boring, perhaps because I knew that whatever solution she came up with would be no more than her own pet theory. This one, although also based on a true story, is much more fictional in feel, so I could believe in her solution better. I shall be sure not to make A Shilling for Candles my next one then! Sounds like she’s pretty variable…

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  7. Wow! This book sounds really good.
    This made me laugh: “First published in 1948, the social attitudes are very much of their time, and it becomes pretty clear that Ms Tey was probably a good old-fashioned Tory snob whose ideas on class and politics ought to have roused my rage. But actually I found them amusing, and a great, if unintentional, depiction of that particular class of ultra-conservativism which still exists today, particularly in the letters page of The Telegraph and other newspapers read mainly by the retired colonels and maiden aunts of the Shires.” 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, the letters page of The Telegraph is notorious for being full of letters from people who still believe Britain should have hung on to the Empire… 😉 But I feel I may have stolen the “retired colonels and maiden aunts” line from someone… maybe PG Wodehouse… 😀

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  8. it’s been years since I read Daughter of Time, but I remember enjoying it very much. It sounds like I’d better add this one to my wishlist! The consortium from which my digital library draws its titles has no Tey books at all (what’s with that??), so I’ll have to look at my other options.

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    • Haha, The Daughter of Time is one of these books most people seem to love and yet I couldn’t stand it! I think I abandoned it halfway through in fact, or perhaps I just fell into a coma… 😉 This one is so much better! That is odd – she’s one of the better known of the vintage mystery writers and most of her books are still in print. Send them a letter of complaint! But you can download this one free from fadedpage.com and I think they have lots of her other ones too.

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    • In truth, this one turned up on my vintage crime challenge list or I may not have tried another of her books, but I’m glad it did since it has redeemed her reputation in my eyes… 😉

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  9. I read this when I was at school and again some years ago but it just didn’t hit the spot for me, the whole thing seemed far too unlikely to me as I recall, but it’s just as well we’re all different!

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    • That’s how I felt about The Daughter of Time, which vast numbers of people love and yet it bored me half to death. Sometimes I think it depends as much on our mood at the time of reading as on the book itself!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I love looking at the letters to The Telegraph now and then – it’s hilarious to see how some of them still clearly feel we should never have let go of the Empire! Don’t they say “old soldiers never die”? 😉

      This one was excellent and I’m now willing to give her another chance, which I’m sure she’d be thrilled to know… 😂

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  10. Reading Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger led me to this as it is supposed to have been influenced by this book. After reading your entertaining review, I went back to my own and here’s what I had concluded with: “Uncomfortable reading at times but interesting because of the depiction of the Post-War churning of the classes and the author’s own sympathies.”

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    • Oh, that’s interesting! I read The Little Stranger years ago and don’t remember the details now, but I did love it at the time. Maybe I should try to fit in a re-read while this one is fresh in my mind. Ha, yes, it appears we felt much the same about Tey’s attitudes showing through, but I felt she was out of date even for her own time. She strikes me as one of these people who would have felt that we should have hung on to the Empire… 😉

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    • Sometimes when they’re as snobby as this, all you can do is laugh and be thankful we’ve moved on a bit! I loved that she would only have a solicitor who she saw as her social equal – better to be jailed than have some common person represent you… 😂

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  11. Thanks for drawing attention to this, it sounds the sort of thing that I could really appreciate. That and the fact it appeared in the year I was born, meaning I’m familiar with those attitudes that really only came to a head in the 60s with things such as the Profumo affair, the Lady Chatterley’s Lover case and the Oz trial.

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    • I hope you enjoy it if you get to it sometime! Haha, yes, hopefully it’s because we’ve moved on from the worst of these attitudes (most of us, anyway!) that it’s possible to laugh at them now rather than getting enraged. She just struck me as the archetypical upper-middle-class snob of the Empire era. Better to go to jail than be represented by a social inferior! 😂

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  12. I’m amazed that you keep finding new gems amongst these British vintage crime books. I’m also impressed, you gave this author a second chance – once I’ve had a bad experience with a book, I rarely return to the author. There are just too many other authors out there, waiting to be discovered (by me….).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just follow where Martin Edwards leads me – sometimes to triumph, sometimes to disaster… 😉 I probably wouldn’t have read another of her books if this one hadn’t turned up on my vintage crime challenge, but I’m glad it did since it has redeemed her in my eyes. 😀

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  13. I’m playing catch up again, thanks to some horrific storms blowing through here on Friday — ugh! This sounds like a most interesting read, one I’ll have to see if I can get my fingers on. Thanks for a lovely introduction to an author I haven’t read before.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There seems to be all kinds of awful weather happening over there right now! Storms, ugh! But I think I’d prefer that to the heatwave they’re having over on the northwest! Stay safe, curl up with a good book and some chocolate… 😀

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  14. Was it kind to include that link to fadedpage.com? An entire library at my disposal? 😫 Though I’ve already found several titles that I have wanted to read for a while. So I should be pleased, right? 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, sorry! It’s a great site though, isn’t it? The books are always really well formatted and proofed too, which isn’t always the case with these out of copyright sites. And they’re adding things all the time… 😈

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  15. I really like the element of crime fiction when you don’t know who to believe, I think that’s a fantastic, but very difficult to pull-off plot device. I found myself already forming an opinion on who to believe as I read your review!

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