Thanks to Ali and Liz, I have been encouraged into re-reading this month and I will write a little about them here, trying to avoid too many spoilers. Despite yesterday’s spanner, I have decided to follow my mood and start with “The Franchise Affair”, possibly Josephine Tey’s best-known novel. She is described by Wikipedia thus:

Josephine Tey was a pseudonym used by Elizabeth Mackintosh (25 July 1896–13 February 1952) a Scottish author best known for her mystery novels. She also wrote as Gordon Daviot, under which name she wrote plays with an historical theme.

“The Franchise Affair” was published in 1949 and although her semi-regular detective, Inspector Alan Grant, makes fleeting appearances, the book’s main character is a country solicitor called Robert Blair. The story is set in the Midlands country town of Milford which seems unchanged even by the recent war, and indeed at the start of the book Blair is portrayed as a middle aged man, living at home with his aunt, stuck into a comfortable routine of golf, changing old ladies’ wills and tea and biscuits at the same time very day.

However, on the Friday afternoon that the story begins, Robert’s life is shaken out of its usual rut by a desperate phone call from Marion Sharpe, a woman who lives locally in a house called The Franchise with her mother. The Sharpes are recent arrivals and not well integrated, and it transpires they have been accused out of the blue of a fairly shocking crime and need a solicitor. Despite Robert’s initial reluctance, he becomes involved in the case (and the women’s lives) and his whole world is changed.

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I won’t say any more about the plot in detail, because I would encourage everyone to read it. The book is so well written (as much Golden Age crime literature is) and very readable. As a mystery it’s gripping and very clever and will keep readers guessing till the end. However, on a re-read I found there is a lot more to this novel than just the mystery tale. It is worth remembering the just post-war setting of the book – Tey manages to reflect some of the changes that have happened in the world and a lot of the book manages to have digs at the emergence of the gutter press and also at ‘mob’ attitudes and behaviour being influenced by the media whilst being based on very little.

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Tey also has some very strong views on crime and punishment and who is culpable and who should be excused. She makes it very clear that she is against the automatic excusing of a criminal because they had an awful childhood, no friends when they were growing up, no breaks in life etc. It may or may not be a view that appeals, and there is a lot of criticism of what would be labelled “liberal bleeding hearts” but it never detracts from the story, and in fact is a consistent view when observing what the Sharpes are put through. Tey has a lot to say about human nature and its intolerance, although it has to be said that some of her main characters are somewhat intolerant themselves! However, they do develop during the story and actually end up with a wider worldview than they started with.

All in all, I think I got a lot more from this book on a re-read. Because I could vaguely remember the ending, I was not rushing through in a hurry and found I could really enjoy the quality of the writing, the settings and the characterisation. There were a whole host of satisfying supporting characters (cousin Nevil, Aunt Lin, Kevin the Barrister, the guys at the local garage) and I ended up rating this book even more highly than when I first read it.

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