Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Brat Farrar

I’m re-reading some of my all-time favorite books, and Brat Farrar was on that list. Though less well-known than Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, Brat Farrar is no less nuanced and enjoyable. The book tells the story of Brat Farrar, a foundling with no real place in the world, who is approached by an actor, Alec Loding. Loding momentarily mistook Brat for Simon Ashby, an old neighbor of Loding’s. Upon closer examination, it’s obvious to Loding that he was mistaken, but he develops a scheme. Simon Ashby is due to come into a fortune upon his 21st birthday in a few weeks. If Brat were to impersonate Simon’s older brother who went missing, he would inherit the estate and could easily share it with Loding.

While it seems that I have disclosed the entire plot of the book, in fact, all of this is given to the reader in the first few chapters of the book. Instead, the plot of the book deals with the tightrope Brat must walk in order to maintain his newfound place in a family. He grows to love the family members and their home, Latchetts, which is a working horse farm.

The mystery in this book is situational. Will Brat get away with the deception? If he is found out, when and how will he be found out? How can his exceptional resemblance to the family be explained away? As always, Tey makes us care about even the most minor characters in the book and richly draws each one.

Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be enough research material available for a biography of Tey who was actually Elizabeth Mackintosh and wrote plays under the name of Gordon Daviot.  One of her other works, A Shilling for Candles, was the genesis for Hitchcock's Young and Innocent, but even there little correspondence exists between author and filmmaker.  I do have a thin booklet printed which is called a “Celebration” of Tey, but she did not keep enough papers or letters to fully see the author.

A Masterpiece Mystery movie of this was shown on PBS in the 1980s. Sadly, unlike most every other movie shown there, this is not for sale on their website or any site for that matter. Only a poor quality bootleg copy is available. 


  1. One of my all-time favourite books. I wrote a piece on how it inspired me for Jim Huang's Mystery Muses.

  2. Carola, we seem to have similar tastes in fiction, so that doesn't surprise me. :) It's a wonderful book.

  3. It's been a while since I read Brat Farrar; I have to re-read it again soon. Her books in general don't fit easily into any patterns; each is distinct (despite the presence in most of Alan Grant) and different from the others. The Daughter of Time remains a favorite, but I also really like "To Love and Be Wise" and, somewhat less strongly, "The Singing Sands."

  4. I enjoyed reading this one last week - believe it or not, there are at least three blog this week alone that have reviewed this book, so Tey / Mackintosh obviously endures! The entirety of the BBC version of the serial is available on YouTube (though it is clearly illegal). The 1963 Hammer Films version of the novel, PARANOIAC, starring Oliver Reed as Simon, is easy to get on DVD (and Blu-ray), in its own slightly perverse way, a good adaptation though I very much doubt the author would have approved of the overwrought and melodramatic climax straight out of Edgar Allan Poe.

  5. Isn't it funny how people seem to tune into the same thing at the same time? I'll have to look at YouTube and I'll definitely check out Paranoiac! Thanks for the tips.