He walked slowly across the room until he was standing face to face with Brat by the window. He had abnormally clear grey eyes with a
darker rim to the iris, but they had no expression in them. Nor had his pale features any expression. He was so tightly strung, Brat thought,that if you plucked him with a finger he would twang.
And then quite suddenly the tightness went.
He stood for a moment searching Brat’s face; and his own was suddenly slack with relief.
“They won’t have told you?” he said, drawling a little, “but I was prepared to deny with my last breath that you were Patrick. Now that I’ve seen you I take all that back. Of course you are Patrick.” He put out his hand. “Welcome home.”
Brat Farrar, the eponymous hero of Josephine Tey’s 1949 novel, is a foundling brought up in an orphanage. A loner by disposition, Farrar leaves England in his teens, traveling as far as Mexico and the US but without settling anywhere. The only solidarity that he feels, in an otherwise lonely life, is with horses. Returning to England, he is one day accosted by a man called Alec Loding. A bit-part player, Loding, wants Farrar to impersonate Patrick Ashby, a neighbour of his in a village called Clare. Patrick had committed suicide some eight years back though his body has never been found. Had Patrick lived, he would have turned twenty one in a few weeks time and inherited his parental estate. At first, repulsed by the offer, Farrar starts taking an interest in the scheme as it provides him with excitement and thrill. Secondly, there are horses on the estate, and finally because somewhere he is keen to have a family. However, his decision to go along with the impersonation has far reaching impact on the other Ashbys, most notably, on Simon who as the slightly younger twin of Patrick was about to inherit the estate.
The book is not much of a mystery because you know right from the beginning that Brat Farrar is an imposter. The other mystery – that of the death of Patrick – can be easily deciphered too. The only mystery, in fact, is whether or not Brat is an Ashby and if so, who sired him. The plot, thus, is not gripping but Tey’s talent of creating memorable characters – notably the Rector George Peck and Aunt Bee who have a quiet dignity about them – keeps one engrossed in the text. Also, Tey’s description of the English rural life is engaging, though the details are more like that of life in the Thirties rather than what its date suggests –
The problem with Josephine Tey is that very early in the novel you get to know the characters the author sympathises with. From then on, the reader too is either forced to like those characters or if not then the reader is damned because the characters the author herself is not fond of come to a bad end. So it is with Simon in this book. Rather early in the book, I could guess what had happened to Patrick and for this Simon had to be shown as a petty, mean little thing. As Brat rises high in the esteem of everybody, Simon repeatedly comes across as shallow and finally downright evil. Questions like how could a thirteen year old execute such a diabolical plot or why the family was so eager to throw him over in favour of Brat are never satisfactorily answered. The way the family did behave was almost like they wanted somebody to spite Simon. Thank God Tey didn’t make Simon to have engineered the death of his parents too!
Wednesday: 10th August, 2011
Entered for Book Review Party Wednesday