Reading Nicola Upson's Two for sorrow and being a bit puzzled as to what, if anything, in the novel might have actually been written by Josephine Tey, prompted me to re-read a Josephine Tey novel, Brat Farrar. I hadn't read Brat for a very long time, but realised within a page or two that Two for sorrow was wholly (except for one section that was attributed neither to Upson nor Tey) a Nicola Upson original. Upson, as you'll have realised from my last post, is brilliant; but Tey is from another planet. I had forgotten how very good she is. Her writing is beautiful, very simple, it could be written for a young audience - indeed the first time I read Brat Farrar was as a set text in school, but she is spell-binding. And at her very best in Brat Farrar she is every bit as good as the writer who I think is most like her, Patricia Highsmith. In fact, I did wonder if Highsmith was influenced by Tey in writing The talented Mr. Ripley as there are similarities, although the outcomes of the novels are very different. And both novels were written within a few years of each other, Brat in 1949, Ripley in 1955; both interestingly about imposters who dominate the title.
Tey takes a classic tale of an imposter but weaves something totally unexpected out of it. When Brat Farrar is mistaken for an English country gentleman he is persuaded to pass himself off as Patrick Ashby, the heir to the country estate of Latchetts, who was believed to have committed suicide when he was 13. Brat goes along with the deception, but becomes increasingly uneasy as he begins to suspect that there was rather more to Patrick's death.....
Josephine Tey takes the everyday life of English country folk - a slightly uppercrust version of The Archers - and reveals that evil lurks very close under the surface. She plays cleverly with her readers. In an Hitchcockian way (Tey had one of her earlier novels, A Shilling for candles, adapted by Hitchcock - filmed as Young and innocent) you want the imposter to succeed, you want "bad" to triumph, but then she throws you a curveball - so if that's ok, is this? or this? So you too are drawn into Farrar's own thought processes and growing uneasiness.
I had forgotten (how could I?) how good Josephine Tey is, and here, in Brat Farrar, she's at her very best. If you haven't already discovered her, this is the novel to read. Haunting, clever, with a lovable hero, and a superbly twisted villain, what is there not to love about this classic crime tale?