The Franchise is an old house, surrounded by an imposing wall, and very few people have ever seen it, so when Robert Blair, a local solicitor, is summoned by Marion Sharpe, he jumps at the chance. He soon finds this is more than just business as usual. The Sharpes, Marion and her mother, have been accused of kidnapping young Betty Kane and keeping her as a slave for a month, starving her and beating her.
Enter (for a bit) Inspector Alan Grant, and the case is looking bad for the Sharpes. Blair is convinced of their innocence – but is he correct? And can he prove it?
And has the curse of Book Club struck again? Of course it has…
Josephine Tey is often lauded as one of the lost Queens of Crime Fiction, but I’ve only read one of her mystery novels, The Daughter Of Time. Now let it never be said that I over-react, but the premise of that book annoys me so much that I never returned to her writing. I mean, “the official portrait of Richard III makes him loom innocent to me” – it’s the official portrait, you idiot! Richard’s hardly going to look at it and say to the artist, can you make me look a bit more evil, please? I like the book, I do – mainly because of all the history in it – but that bit still rankles eleven years later…
But Book Club intervened, and selected The Franchise Affair as this month’s offering. And “offering” is the right word for it, as if this had been a paper copy, I’d have set it on fire as tribute to Cadmus (the Greek God of literature, apparently). Actually, I wouldn’t as it would probably annoy the chap given how disappointing this book is…
It started promisingly enough, with an intriguing premise, but plot-wise (and don’t forget, dear reader, at the end of the day that’s the most important part for me) it just doesn’t go anywhere. Did they do it? If they didn’t, can Blair prove they didn’t? And if a whopping Deus Ex Machina can crop up at the end to help resolve things, that would be useful.
It’s interesting to read JJ’s review on The Invisible Event, as he thought it first rate. But he was going into it having read it once before, knew what to expect plotwise and therefore was revelling in the character work, which I admit is excellent. But as a mystery novel, it falls completely flat. As a crime novel, it’s pretty weak as we never really get much of a sense of the motivations of the villain of the piece. As a character piece of characters circling a crime, yes, it probably works. As a study of the public reaction to things they don’t know the full story about, it’s interesting. But that’s not something I particularly want to read – I like a good mystery and this, dear reader, is not that.
Yes, never let it be said that you overreact… But I suppose it’s true that if you want to read true classic mysteries and only those, no other premise acceptable, then Tey is not for you. (Lest I come off as a rabid fan, I should add that I find her The Man in the Queue unforgivably unfair and The Singing Sands just a mess, so much so that the fine character touches can’t compensate in either case. But I always enjoy rereading the other six she wrote.)
It’s odd, as I’ve enjoyed some books with only a smattering of a mystery and beautiful descriptions, but this one just left me cold.
Mutters something about a famous train mystery
I’ve read all of the mysteries of Josephine Tey. Her work is way underappreciated. There a really a lot of writers from that time who could be much appreciated by a wider audience. But she is certainly in the front of the group. The pleasure in her prose alone is enough to stimulate more than a single reading. The Daughter of Time is a wonder of a story,
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I don’t deny she is a good writer, but I don’t think from my limited reading – this and Daughter of Time – that she is a good writer of mysteries. Crime, perhaps, but not mysteries
For me, the mystery part is the very least important part of these works. Even Simenon, Gladys Mitchell. Christie, Sayers etc. I guess I’m more interested in the actual content of the story and what it has to say about human nature and our living conditions. I’m very caught up in the period just before I was born. Solving the puzzle about who done what is so far out of my concern that it might as well be off the mao completely.
Each to their own, I guess. I just wish there was some way of subclassifying crime fiction as “mystery” and “not a mystery”.
[…] The Franchise Affair has been reviewed, among others, by Karyn Reeves at ‘A Penguin a Week’, ’Fiction Fan’s Book Reviews’, Brad at ‘Ah Sweet Mystery!’, Kate Jackson at ‘Cross-examining Crime’, Jim Noy at ‘The Invisible Event’, and Steve Barge at ‘In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel’. […]