Ms Tey certainly didn’t write mystery novels by the numbers. There is a mystery in this one, but it’s not really the main part of the book. Brat, his name is from Bartholomew, is an orphan rolling around the world, working here and working there. In his first days back in England, he meets Alec Loding, a fading actor, who mistakes him for someone else. That someone being Simon Ashby, Alec’s neighbour, about to turn 21 and take over his parents’ legacy. Simon had had a twin brother, Patrick, who supposedly killed himself at the age of 13 soon after their parents died in a plane crash. That twin would have inherited the House and the Stables, but for his untimely death. The similarity is uncanny, and Brat’s new friend can sense a money-maker. There is no mystery about whether or not Brat is Patrick. That is covered at the beginning. But as Brat-Patrick gets to know the Ashby family and care about them, he realises that there is something dark and evil lurking underneath them and he sets about discovering what that is. Even if it puts his own life in danger. The world-be con man has a heart of gold.
I love the way that Tey could set a scene and get into the minutiae of life. There are details about the Ashby staff, including the brassy and brash young woman who “obliges”, but only because her boyfriend works in the Ashby stables. Most of the family are horse mad and there is a lovey description of a local horse show, with details about how people got there and where they stay when the young ones go in for all night parties after the show. If I had one niggle it’s that the Ashby children’s parents are barely sketched in. Yes, they died years before the book opens, but their deaths are the catalyst for the rest of the plot. Another Ashby child, a younger brother, died in the same crash. But there are no details about him. The one stand-out against the horsey set, Ruth, younger sister and half of another twin set, might have shared her antipathy towards horses with the brother who died (before Patrick). But he is not considered to be important enough to write about.
Of course, it’s obvious who Brat really is, once you find out about the Ashby’s relatives and the ending, though a twist, is not a surprise. Not as big a surprise as at the end of “Miss Pym Disposes”, which was another of Tey’s wonderful mysteries that aint. Some people have criticised the classism, which is a mistake in my opinion. I cannot see the point of criticising attitudes from the past. Ms Tey’s novel is written in its time, the 1940’s. The whole story reeks of menace and dread, which stalks Brat all the way to the end. He starts out as an indifferent imposter, happy to earn some money and a home, but ends up as having gained a family as well.
“Brat Farrar” was made into a movie, renamed “Paranoic”. You can find the plot and details on Wikipedia. It sounds horrible, but then I might just be prejudiced as I never could stand Oliver Reed. The whole rehashed plot sounds appalling anyway. It was also made into a six-part miniseries by the BBC, but with the plot moved from the 1940’s to the 1980’s. Mark Greenstreet played Simon and Brat. At least they managed to find two girl twins, Victoria and Rebecca Bradley, to play Jane and Ruth. At least the plot of the series seems to be closer to that of the novel.
Would I recommend this to anyone who had not read any of Josephine Tey’s work? Yes, I would. It’s a good read with a genuinely good story. She’s better known for “The Daughter of Time” and “The Singing Sands”, but this is a very good example of her psychological mysteries