Guest blogger: Valerie Appleby, Assistant Editor Two Roads

I’m not much of a mystery reader, but something about Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar intrigued me. Perhaps it was the horse on the front cover, or perhaps the title that I just couldn’t place (I admit, I thought it was a Gaelic phrase before discovering it was actually just the name of the protagonist), but when I first discovered this book in the manuscript pages of Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club, I was tempted to read it right away.Brat Farrar, Josephine Tey

As it happened, I wasn’t alone. After selecting Brat Farrar for the eighth Two Roads book club, I was inundated by requests to join from my colleagues in Hodder towers. Several of my peers mentioned it was one of their favourite books, others proclaimed they’d been dying to read. I’m pleased to announce that this book lived up to all its hype.

Brat Farrar is a mystery of sorts (we’ll get to that) about the Ashbys, a family of seven on a large estate in southern England. When Mr and Mrs Ashby die in a plane crash, the value of their estate is frozen until their eldest child (who is also a twin) turns twenty-one and legally inherits the property. But

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shortly after his parents’ death, he mysteriously vanishes, assumed to have committed suicide.

Years later, and only a few months before the surviving twin turns twenty-one, a friend of the Ashby family sees a young man, Brat Farrar, in London. Brat bears an uncanny resemblance to the missing Ashby twin and the family friend convinces him to pose as the prodigal

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son in order to swindle the family out of the estate. When Brat begins the con, the real story begins.

What’s so interesting about this book, and why we were all so hesitant to call it a mystery, is that the game is up almost as soon as it begins. We’re all used to the classic bait-and-switch of modern mysteries, in which the culprit is usually the one you’d least suspect, but in Brat Farrar, Tey leads us straight to the ending, and none of us were surprised when we reached it. However, we still found this a page-turning read. Perhaps not for the surprise factor, but for the suspense, which Tey brilliantly builds throughout the story. We all had moments in which we held our breath wondering if Brat was going to be ‘found out’. In his little slip-ups, we were horrified.

We wondered whether the Ashby family truly believed that Brat was their long-lost relative. We discussed how the system of inheritance of England’s large estates is antiquated and unfair. We even talked about how easy (and sadly common) it is for young men to commit horrible acts of violence. We mentioned, also, our admiration for Tey’s characters. What seemed strange to our group (which mostly consisted of editors), was that so many of the characters in Brat Farrar have no real bearing on the plot, yet get a lot of ‘airtime’. These days, we thought, most editors cut text that’s not critical to the story. We wondered how Tey got away with it, but we also quite enjoyed that she had. So many of her characters are charming, and add a light-hearted touch to what’s otherwise a dark plot. We did descend into a debate over our favourite Ashby daughter, particularly the straightforward and rational Jane versus the frivolous and effusive Ruth (I voted for Ruth). And of course, couldn’t avoid discussion over whether or not it’s acceptable to sip soup from the side of the spoon.

What we all agreed on, however, was how much we loved reading this book. It was true escapism and each of us declared that we’d recommend it to a friend without a moment’s hesitation.

All things considered, we rated Brat Farrar a 3.5 out of 4.

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