Brat Farrar, by Josephine Tey

I enjoyed this read but I’d definitely class it as a good-not-great book. It’s an oddball in its way, a cross between a mystery and a Victorian melodrama.

Here’s the basic blot. A distant family member, an actor, meets a young man name Brat Farrar who he at first mistakes for a cousin, an heir to a modest fortune. This cousin, Simon Ashby, was the second-born of twins, but the older twin Patrick apparently died at age 13 (apparently because no body was found but a vague note implying suicide was found near a cliff). The actor cousin convinces this newly-met young man to pose as the older twin with a story and inherit the properties and they will split the proceeds. What motivates the cousin, who soon disappears from the story, to take this Iago-like action isn’t really clear, not much more than why the young man agrees.

After training on the family history, the design of the house, and favorite possessions of the older twin Farrar presents himself to the family lawyer asking to be brought back into the family to claim his rightful inheritance.

As the story develops it’s discovered what actually happened to Patrick as he works to insinuate his way into the Ashby family.

While the cause of Patrick’s disappearance is a mostly-believable resolution to the story the book turns Victorian when we discover the true identity of Brat Farrar (why does he have such a family resemblance?) The latter is not a mostly-believable resolution of anything, though it might have been tolerable if Tey had just cleared this bit of business at the start of the book instead of making it a mystery revealed at the end of the book. At this point the book takes a definite shift from Agatha Christie to Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

There are books, especially in the mystery genre, where you reach the end and think This? This is the thing I spent hours getting to?  Feeling cheated by a writer is one of the reader’s great agonies, perhaps second only to finding someone tore the last pages out of a book.

An addendum, 8 March 2017

Ran across a reference to a case called The Tichborne Elegy with similar elements to this novel. It apparently captivated Victorian England in the late 1800s. It came to my attention in The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: The Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective, by Kate Summerscale. Whicher was also a detective in this case. Follow the link for a Wikipedia article.