In this tale of mystery and suspense, a stranger enters the inner sanctum of the Ashby family posing as Patrick Ashby, the heir to the family’s sizable fortune. The stranger, Brat Farrar, has been carefully coached on Patrick’s mannerisms, appearance, and every significant detail of Patrick’s early life, up to his thirteenth year when he disappeared and was thought to have drowned himself. It seems as if Brat is going to pull off this most incredible deception until old secrets emerge that jeopardize the imposter’s plan and his life.
Brat Farrar is a classic of the mystery genre, and deservedly so. I found it a bit of a slow-burner in the early stages, but it built into a roaring blaze by the end! In the hands of a lesser plotter, the central mystery of the book would have been “Is he the real Patrick Ashby?”, but Tey lets us in on the conspiracy immediately: Brat is decidedly not Patrick, and is knowingly deceiving the family to gain the fortune. Yet, Brat Farrar is a decent person at his core, and has qualms about the crime he’s committing. The more he gets to know his new family, the more invested he becomes in discovering the true fate of the man he’s impersonating.
The next layer of mystery seemed pretty straightforward, too. There’s one Ashby who’s quite certain Brat is an imposter: the usurped Simon, Patrick’s twin. His behavior is perplexing, though: if he’s so confident Brat is a fraud, why doesn’t he expose the lie? If he can prove Patrick is truly dead, why not do so and secure the estate for himself? The answer seemed obvious, and I thought the book would hold little surprise for me. I should have had more faith in Josephine Tey!
Just as I was thinking of skimming the rest of the book and setting it aside, Tey introduced the wonderful character of Timber, the murder horse. A magnificent, spirited beast, Timber has deliberately murdered one rider, and had a go at another, before making an attempt on Brat. Tey makes it clear this isn’t something the horse has been trained to do, but is of his own will–how hilarious, and wonderful! Giving Brat this second adversary was a masterstroke; Tey had me firmly in hand for the rest of the book.
There are several more puzzles to solve: whether Patrick was actually murdered, how, and why? Why does the foundling Brat look so much like an Ashby that he easily passes for Patrick? How will Brat get out of his perilous position without dooming himself or harming the family he’s come to love? Most importantly, as Brat transforms from villain to hero of the story, how will Tey maneuver him into a happy ending?
I went from feeling a bit bored with this story, to loving it completely. It doesn’t displace The Daughter of Time as my favorite Tey novel, but it’s right at that book’s heels. It’s a terrific mystery that deserves its place in the pantheon of classics.