Josephine Tey’s writing in Brat Farrar is absolutely amazing. The story takes place mostly in England on a breeding farm of a not-quite-aristocratic family and centres around the coming of age of a surviving twin and a masquerading interloper who steps in to steal away his inheritance. Much of the story has to do with horses — breeding, riding, jumping, and cantering around the beautiful countryside — and, as with setting out on a ride, the story starts off at a walk and steadily picks up the pace as the characters gain in confidence and the line between a quasi-immoral act runs into an utterly unacceptable, and greater immoral truth. The descriptions of the exhilaration of riding in its various forms — cow pony, dude ranch, jumper, racer — is breathtaking and, while I would stop short of calling it a psychological thriller, the main characters do engage in psychological analysis of the interloper who, in turn, is doing the same of them while he walks a tightrope trying not to put a step wrong and possibly undo his unbelievable good fortune.
The Ashby family was shocked eight years earlier with the death of Bill and Nora Ashby in a plane crash which left the 5 children in the care of Bill’s sister Bea, and then, shortly thereafter, shocked again with the disappearance and assumed suicide of the oldest, Simon’s twin, Patrick. Now, just as plans are underway for celebrating Simon’s 21st birthday, Bea is summoned to the offices of Cosset, Thring, and Noble in London with the news that Patrick has reappeared, not having committed suicide after all, but having left behind the intolerable loss and sadness of his parents death. Once the facts have been investigated, Patrick (nicknamed Brat, short for Bartholomew — the name he “assumed”) is returned to his family with a perfectly natural set of reactions from the 9-year-old twins Ruth and Jane, the older sister Eleanor, and Simon, who appears to be cold and suspicious. What the reader knows and the family does not, is that Brat has been coached by a former member of the community who yens for a more comfortable existence and is to take a monthly cut of the inheritance.
Tey meticulously lays the foundation that leads Brat to believe that Patrick was murdered and that the murderer plans to eliminate him as well. The suspense builds, rather slowly, but the pace of the narrative is quite compelling and the ending is preceded by a rather tense cliff-hanger. Literally.
I have a habit when starting a new book, a habit I’ve had since before I was a teenager: I stand the book on its spine and open a few pages alternately from each side pulling my thumb down along the inside edge until the whole book is opened. Then, when I read the book, the spine does not (usually) crack, and the book looks like it has never been read. The drawback to this is that sometimes a passage near the end catches my eye and I read a bit. So it is just possible that there is more suspense to Brat Farrar than I experienced, since I managed to read a part that was rather a spoiler. Despite that, it was a quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed. * * * * *
Brat Farrar is available from Amazon CA in a variety of formats.
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Brat Farrar was published before I was born and is my submission to
The Ecclectic Reader Challenge in that category.