“A Readers’ Favorite for More Than Half a Century” by Charles L.P. Silet
Apparently little is known about Elizabeth MacKintosh who wrote mysteries under the pen names of Gordon Daviot and Josephine Tey.
She was born in Inverness, Scotland in 1896 or 1897 and died in London in 1952. She attended the Royal Academy and later the Anstley Physical Training College in Birmingham, England after which she taught physical education. In 1926 she returned to Inverness to care for her ailing father. There she began her career as an author. After writing a number of short stories, a novel, and a successful play, Richard of Bordeaux,–all under the Daviot pseudonym — she published her first detective novel, The Man in the Queue (1929), featuring her Scotland Yard detective Alan Grant. Her initial Josephine Tey crime novel, A Shilling for Candles, was published in 1936. Elizabeth MacKintosh’s output was small by crime writing standards: she published only five novels in the Alan Grant Series her seven other Josephine Tey novels were one-off books.
Although she wrote only a dozen novels, her reputation as a crime writer is secure. H. F. R. Keating included two of them, The Franchise Affair (1948) and The Daughter of Time (1951)–for which she is still best remembered–in his Crime & Mystery: The 100 Best Books. Robert Barnard remarks that Tey’s enduring fame rests on the love with which her readers regard her books. Unlike the usual writers of puzzle-plots she was not content with formula and managed to tell different sorts of stories in different ways. In doing so she often disregarded the conventions of the whodunit, producing books that Barnard describes as resting in the hinterlands between the crime novel and the “novel proper.” “They all have crime at their heart,” he notes, “but they are as far as possible from the ‘body in the library’ formula.” Brat Farrar (1950) is one of those novels.
The Ashbys are an old country family who have inhabited their Queen Anne estate, Latchetts, for the past three hundred years. If the family has not exactly fallen on hard times, they have been experiencing modest times since the tragic death of Bill and Nora Ashby, who left five children to be raised by their father’s sister Beatrice. In order to support the Ashby brood Aunt Bee has turned Latchetts into a modestly successful stud. Although the family has endured lean times, they are all looking forward to better ones when the eldest son, Simon, comes of age and inherits the money held in trust for him since the death of his parents.
However, the Ashbys are a family of more than one tragedy; The son who would have inherited the family money Patrick, Simon’s twin brother, apparently distraught at the death of his parents and disconsolate over the burdens of eventually having to manage the family estate, supposedly committed suicide at the age of thirteen some eight years before. Only days before Simon’s twenty-first birthday and his inheritance of the Ashby money, the family learns that Patrick is apparently alive and is planning to return to Latchetts to assume his place in the family once again. But Patrick Ashby turns out to be not exactly who he claims to be and his return unearths some dark family secrets from the past. In this respect Brat Farrar takes on some of the elements of the famous sixteenth-century Martin Guerre case where a mysterious man, missing for years from his village, reappears and attempts to re-assume his place in the community.
Much of the novel’s appeal comes from Tey’s loving portrayal of traditional English country living, the charming family of the Ashbys, and life on a horse-breeding farm. The mystery elements are here understated which makes Brat Farrar one of those “hinterland” novels which defies the conventions of the well-made detective story that Robert Barnard describes in his introduction to this edition. Tey also plays with the twinning of the two brothers Simon and Patrick, so alike and yet so different. By tipping her hand about Patrick’s identity at the novel’s opening Tey reduces the traditional whodunit element, but by reversing the character types she increases the novel’s impact. In the end Brat Farrar unites the elements of the British country novel with a fascinating character study; it is a powerful combination and makes for a fascinating novel.
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Crime Novels By Josephine Tey
Allan Grant Mysteries By Josephine Tey
- The Man in the Queue, 1929
- A Shilling for Candles, 1936
- To Love and Be Wise, 1950
- Daughter of Time, 1951
- The Singing Sands, 1952
Charles L.P. Silet teaches courses in film and contemporary literature at Iowa State University and writes extensively on the mystery field. He recently authored Talking Murder: Interviews with 20 Mystery Writers.