The Franchise Affair

by Josephine Tey

Other authorsRobert Barnard (Introduction)
Paperback, 1998




Scribner, (1998)


Marion Sharpe and her mother seem an unlikely duo to be found on the wrong side of the law. Quiet and ordinary, they have led a peaceful and unremarkable life at their country home, The Franchise. Unremarkable that is, until the police turn up with a demure young woman on their doorstep. Not only does Betty Kane accuse them of kidnap and abuse, she can back up her claim with a detailed description of the attic room in which she was kept, right down to the crack in its round window.But there's something about Betty Kane's story that doesn't quite add up. Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard is stumped. And it takes Robert Blair, local solicitor turned amateur detective, to solve the mystery that lies at the heart of The Franchise Affair...

User reviews

LibraryThing member cbl_tn
In order to save his clients' reputations, country solicitor Robert Blair must prove false a teenage girl's convincing allegation of kidnapping and imprisonment. The drama is perfectly paced, with suspense gradually building toward the climax. Tey leaves just enough doubt to keep readers guessing.

Milford reminds me of St. Mary's Mead. In both villages, observant amateurs notice similarities between the suspects and the locals whose vices and peccadilloes are known to them. Tey's witty and insightful comments about human nature and behavior provoke reflection. Some characteristic passages:

...for all his surface malice and his over-crowded life, {he} found the will and the time to help those who deserved help. In which he differed markedly from the Bishop of Larborough, who preferred the undeserving.

The less he knows about a thing the more strongly he feels about it.

The criminal is a person who makes the satisfaction of his own immediate personal wants the mainspring of his actions. You can't cure him of his egotism, but you can make the indulgence of it not worth his while. Or almost not worth his while.

Highly recommended for all classic mystery lovers.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
Robert Blair is a sedate solicitor and the current head of a well established and respectable family firm in a small English town. He lives a quiet and predictable life and is content living with his aunt who feeds him well. One day, he receives a surprising phone call from Marion Sharpe, the current resident of The Franchise, a old and run down house just at the outskirts of town. She asks him for help in a strange case in which a young girl by the name of Betty Kane accuses Ms. Sharpe and her mother of having kidnapped her, imprisoned her in their attic and beaten her repeatedly, presumably in an attempt to induce her to become their servant. As strange and unlikely as the case may seem, the girl has a blameless reputation and is able to describe the house down to it's tiniest details to Scotland Yard, while the Sharpes on the other hand are none too popular in their small town. All the same, our solicitor decides the accused women cannot have committed such horrific acts and he sets out to prove their innocence.

I had heard many good things about Josephine Tey, and they were all true. He characters are unusual, and there are plenty of strange elements which kept this reader on her toes. Although this is the third book in the Allan Grant series, he plays a very minor role in this novel, which makes it as good a start as any. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member BookAngel_a
This has become one of my favorite mysteries of all time.

A young girl named Betty Kane accuses a mysterious middle aged woman and her mother of beating and kidnapping her. Everyone believes the sweet young girl, except the local lawyer Robert Blair. Blair is determined to prove the girl a liar, and his quest turns his quiet predictable life upside down.

This is an Alan Grant mystery, but he is rarely mentioned. When he is mentioned, he is presented as 'the bad guy' because he is prosecuting the case. There is also no murder. How unusual! This non-formulaic approach is one reason I loved the book. Every character is this book is endearing (well, almost every character). I could see them as I read, and they left me wanting more.

I stayed up way past bedtime because I could not put the book down. Riveting stuff.
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LibraryThing member ChocolateMuse
Tey breaks all the rules of cozy mysteries here in one fell swoop. She presumably did it on purpose and the result got me through a night of insomnia with comparative ease. Her series detective Inspector Grant only appears in the background, and fails to solve the case himself. There is no murder, but a completely different crime. What's more, some vital clues are provided out of the blue, quite literally coming as answered prayers, which are offered up by a silly aunt. That's a lot of big rules to break in one short cozy mystery, and Tey does it with aplomb. Wikipedia tells me the story is based on a true one about Elizabeth Canning, which explains a lot. Tey herself was a rather interesting person. She features as a character in a series by Nicola Upson, The Josephine Tey Mysteries (I haven't read them). She was a nonconformist and every bit as strong an author as the more conventional Dame Agatha. Oh and she's a pseudonym - her real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh, an 'obsessively private' Scotswoman.… (more)
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
The introduction to the newest editions of the Josephine Tey books by Robert Barnard singles out The Franchise Affair, along with Brat Farrar and The Daughter of Time as books that are more mainstream novels than mere mysteries, and I routinely see those three titles cited as the best books Tey ever wrote--and I'd concur (although I'd add Miss Pym Disposes to the list). Barnard also says that like The Daughter of Time that "The Franchise Affair also has a basis in fact (an eighteenth-century case in which a maid charged her employers with abduction and mistreatment), but in her hands it becomes a sort of parable of the middle class at bay."

In that same introduction Barnard also accuses Josephine Tey of "contempt for the working class." I'd say on the contrary given characters such as Stanley in this book, Tey has great respect for the working class. But she does hold in contempt woolly-headed bleeding-heart excuses for the non-working and criminal class. There's definitively a conservative sensibility that's more obvious in this book than any of her others, and I can imagine some readers might be rubbed raw by recognizing themselves in those she mocks who make a cause celebre of "the Franchise Affair."

The Franchise is a remote and secluded gated house lived in by middle-aged Marion Sharpe and her elderly mother. Their isolation, all the more since they're new to the area, made them the subject of suspicion even before the "affair." Betty Kane, a fifteen year old schoolgirl of good family, accuses them of having abducted her and keeping her captive in their attic for a month, trying to force her to work as a domestic for them. She's able to provide details that prove damningly accurate. The case reminded me quite a bit of the infamous Tawana Brawley case in New York, another case of a teen making accusations that caused a furor.

Enter their solicitor, Robert Blair--who believes the Sharpes--but not Cane--and proceeds to investigate. Interestingly Tey's own series sleuth, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, does make an appearance in the novel--but, amusingly, not to much effect. (Grant has to be the most fallible fictional detective protagonist I've ever come across.) The fascination of the novel is not just watching Blair untangle Cane's story, but watching a modern-day witch hunt as the story gets spread by the press and fueled by gossip. Tey even serves up a subtle romance in this one--which is actually a rarity for her. And I so much like Tey's style, the humor, insight and wit--always such a pleasure to read.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
Although this is listed as the third book in Tey's Alan Grant series, here he plays more of a background role rather than the main character. That honor goes to
Robert Blair, a typical small-town English solicitor in the quiet village of Milford. His old and established legal firm, Blair, Hayward and Bennet, handles matters of "wills, conveyancing and investments." But with one desperate telephone call, Blair is thrust into a most bizarre case which takes him to a house called The Franchise.

Upon his arrival, he is met by Marion Sharpe and her mother, the owners of the house, along with Inspector Grant of Scotland Yard. Grant is there investigating the story of Betty Kane, a demure young schoolgirl who claims that she had been kidnapped by the Sharpes one day after missing a bus and held prisoner in an attic room, where she was beaten when she refused to perform household duties. According to Kane, Mrs. Sharpe left the door unlocked one night, and Betty was able to make her escape. She was able to describe the inside of the house to a tee, down to the different types of suitcases in a closet, as well as the distinctive features of their car. But the problem is that both Marion and her mother swear that they've never set eyes on the girl, and they're absolutely baffled as to her knowledge of the house. Blair is positive that the women are innocent, and despite some misgivings, agrees to help, despite the insurmountable odds against success. And so it begins.

Tey's characters are believable, the plot is engrossing, but what makes this novel work well is how she successfully plunges her readers immediately not only into the crime, but into the mounting tension surrounding the case up until the end. And although The Franchise Affair is set in the countryside, it is a sophisticated story, not just another English country house-based mystery.

Although written in 1949, Franchise Affair is still a very good read, with some clearly recognizable elements (such as the power of the tabloids to fuel the fires of those who read them), and a completely different storyline than most of her earlier novels and of the novels of that period. Tey based this novel on a true crime of the 18th century focusing on another young girl, Elizabeth Canning. If you're at all interested, there are two fictional accounts of this 18th-century story that I'm aware of: [Elizabeth is Missing], by Lillian de la Torre and [The Canning Wonder], by Arthur Machen.

For aficionados of classic mysteries, The Franchise Affair is definitely recommended. The end is a little sappy, but you won't care because the case is so satisfying.
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LibraryThing member LaurieRKing
Tey does things with her apparently simple plots that no one, but no one else can manage. A deliciously sly woman.
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
The Franchise Affair is a miracle of a book. It is a mystery about with two older women accused of abducting and harming a sixteen year-old girl which turns on their being proved innocent of a crime of which they did not commit, but have absolutely no evidence that can prove this. The lawyer in the case, Robert Blair, reluctantly becomes detective because he believes them. How this impossible situation is resolved is beautifully told by the author. It is both an intelligent and immensely enjoyable mystery.… (more)
LibraryThing member mrtall
The Franchise Affair is a highly-readable crime novel that’s not a murder mystery. The set-up is an odd one: a reclusive but respectable middle-aged woman and her elderly mother have been accused of kidnapping a teenaged girl and trying to compel her to become their housemaid. The story is based on a real historical case in 18th-century England.

The ‘mystery’ here is thus not whodunit, but how did the pert, appealing accuser manage to assemble so many circumstantial facts supporting her bogus story (note that there’s no question whatever that she’s making it all up). A gentle and frankly dull country lawyer, Robert Blair, takes up two defendants’ case and the challenge of trying to crack the girl’s story.

What’s amazing here is Tey’s ability to hold your interest even though you know pretty much exactly where things stand right from the outset of the story. She accomplishes this via strong characterization, and supremely good description and detail of the story’s setting, i.e. an English village in the 1940s. The stresses and strains of that difficult time are woven deeply into the fabric of the story.

Some people might find off-putting Tey’s clear sympathy for the impoverished gentility – and her equally clear antipathy toward the scheming working-class malefactor. I didn’t. It’s actually refreshing to read a story in which the ‘underdog’ really is given the back-handed dignity of being held accountable for moral choices. So many contemporary crime stories work so very hard to do the opposite.
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LibraryThing member RMMee
A charming style, nicely set in its time. A crime story with a distinctly difference - thoroughly readable
LibraryThing member konallis
Well written, at the phrase and sentence level, and opens intriguingly, but becomes an unpleasant read as the pages go on. It has the usual irritants of the Golden Age - class snobbery, sexism, the desperate conservatism of a passing social world - to an irksome degree.

A teenage girl claims that two women, vulnerable outsiders in the local community, abducted and beat her. The hero-detective is convinced that the women are innocent, that the girl is a liar and, furthermore, that the girl is a fast little trollop, using the abduction story as cover for some indiscretion of her own. And so it proves. There are no twists. No errors in judgement. Just Good Middle-class Woman vs. Lying Little Trollop.

Lavishly mixed in are swipes at the kind of beyond-caricatured bleeding-heart liberals who exist only in the mind of tabloid columnists. Plus the cosiest affirmation of eugenics I've so far seen in a post-war novel.
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LibraryThing member lahochstetler
This book offers an intriguing story, all the more intriguing because it is based on a real case from eighteenth-century Scotland. A teenage servant claims that she has been held against her will in the rural manor house of two elderly women. The home's owners, the mother and daughter Sharpe, cannot believe the charges, but they also have little ability to dispute them. Their lawyer, Robert Blair, seems to be the only person in the small town who believes in their innocence.

In this book Tey has produced an excellent mystery. I was certainly riveted to see how the story would resolve. Tey presents the Sharpes' case as if they are innocent, but as the plot progresses it becomes more and more difficult to see how they could possibly not be guilty. The servant, Betty Kane, appears to have absolutely disappeared during the week when she claims to have been held hostage. I couldn't wait to find out what had really happened to Betty, and this is a mystery that keeps the reader guessing until the end. It also highlights the vagaries of small-town life, and the sort of gothic horror that can come from an entire town turning against you.
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LibraryThing member Bookmarque

Considered to be the heir to Christie’s mystery throne, Tey is a decent enough writer in terms of creating character, location and setting social norms. She made me feel for the Sharpe women and loathe Betty, but she failed in the payoff department. After all that hostility directed towards the Sharpes, we get no vindication on their part either from the villagers with pitchforks or Betty. There’s no comeuppance for anyone. No one is punished. No one feels shame. No one apologizes. It’s such a let down.

Another let down was the lack of motivation on Betty’s part. As a reader I’m left to fill in all those little psychological blanks myself. Betty was unhappy. Betty was no longer the object of intense attention. Betty was oversexed. Betty was a little vixen, a manipulator and a liar. But what made her that way? Why did she pick on these women? What put this outlandish idea into her head? I mean, I get that she was in an awkward position after being confronted by her man’s wife, but to attack two total strangers is just plain psychotic. I wish there had been more insight into that aspect of the crime rather than the angry villagers thing. Nice that there’s a flicker of hope for the romance in the end though.
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LibraryThing member RubyScarlett
Tremendously good read and I never expected that from the summary - the tale of two women being framed for a brutal kidnapping seemed incredibly far-fetched to me but I'd loved Miss Pym Disposes by the same author so I thought I might as well see if the rest of her work was as good.
Well, it is, and then some. Her writing is astonishing. The book isn't thick but the amount of detail she manages to put in is quite stupendous. After reading a particularly well-written passage, I often caught myself thinking 'I feel completely different about this character than I did two pages ago, how did she do this?' A great deal of her genius has to do with knowing her characters inside out - not two characters in this are the same and they all have a very distinctive voice. We might follow Robert but I know as much about the Sharpes and Aunt Lin. This is also a masterpiece of a mystery novel - until very late in the book, the author makes sure we just don't know whether or not the Sharpes are guilty and since we spend so much time with them and they're so endearing, it's quite a feast. The investigation is realistic and suspenseful and Tey's sense of timing is impeccable - she does know when to drop us a bone and when to leave us in the dark, it's incredible. The end trial could have been a case of deus ex machina if it weren't so well crafted and it becomes not only plausible but the only solution to the plot. The end is interesting and totally unexpected like the rest of the book - the romance hinted at throughout the novel finds a very unusual open-ended conclusion and I loved that. I can't tell you how vivid and deeply witty Tey's writing is - I will not only miss Marion, Mrs Sharpe and Robert but I'll really miss The Franchise, too. You're left with a very good impression of what everything and everyone is and closing the book is like parting with friends. Amazing author - I'll never doubt her again.… (more)
LibraryThing member MusicMom41
I have now finished reading all the Josephine Tey mysteries (some were rereads—others new to me) and have confirmed my opinion that of the so-called “Golden Age” mystery authors she is in a class by herself. And I saved one of the best for last. I had never read this one and for me it ranks near the top of the list. One wonders what she might have produced if she had lived longer. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member hazelk
This was my first Josephine Tey. Although I'm English and was alive when this was written, I found it far too cosy and the style too old-fashioned. I know this sounds ridiculous as I read plenty of 19th century classics which are naturally old-fashioned but the difference is with those the prose style is superior. OK it's a crime novel and not pretending to be high literature but it didn't entice me to read more Josephine Tey.… (more)
LibraryThing member mahallett
the story was quite good but i found it a little slow. too much aunt harriet and the nephew and other stuff.
too many people out of town or perhaps justice was faster then.
saw it on tv a while ago and found it verrrrry slow. a better read.
LibraryThing member LARA335
A 'how done it'. First published in 1949, this seems strangely contemporary, dealing as it does with being judged by the press and public opinion.
LibraryThing member TheWasp
Robert Blair is a solicitor in the small English village of Milford. His ordered life changes when he is requested by Marion Sharpe to support them against charges of kidnapping and beating a 15 year old girl. Marion and her mother live in The Franchise, a large secluded house on a lonely road.

Josephine Tey's writing is very easy to read with an underlying hint of humour.… (more)
LibraryThing member EBT1002
This classic British mystery was an easy, enjoyable romp. Robert Blair is a likable "detective" (actually, an attorney) who lives with his aunt (actually, his cousin) and gets persuaded to assist Mrs. and Miss Sharpe (mother and daughter living alone in an isolated and dilapidated old house) as they are accused of abducting and abusing a teenage girl. Tey's writing is entertaining --- and more spare than I tend to think of mid-20th-century British crime novels as being. "The Franchise Affair" may be my favorite of the genre and era. It requires leaving some 21st-century sensibilities at the door, but not nearly so many as some of its generation.… (more)
LibraryThing member delphimo
Of course an English mystery is the perfect companion on a rainy day and The Franchise Affair is a book easily completed in a day. The story centers on a stodgy, middle-aged lawyer whose life takes a drastic turn when a woman and her mother ask for his assistance. Marion Sharpe and her mother, Mrs. Sharpe, become the witches of The Franchise, a run-down country house, when a teen-age girl accused them of kidnapping and assaulting her. Robert Blair and his family and friends jump into the melee to defend the Sharpes against this vicious accusation. Tey simplistically tells the story with many moments of comic relief. The house remains as the symbol of the Old Guard that is incapable of change. A delightfully fun story.… (more)
LibraryThing member nordie
Nominally an Inspector Grant book (number 3 in the 6 book series) this is less about Grant - who barely makes an appearance - and more about Robert Blair, a wills and probate solicitor in a small town. At the beginning of the book, he is becoming aware that he is in a rut and whilst tradition is nice and steady, there is perhaps, something more missing, but he doesnt know what. He is almost out the door when his phone goes. Marion Sharpe is in need of help. She, along with her mother, has been accused of kidnapping and holding a young girl hostage in their decrepit and lonely house. The girl's testimony is both specific and vague enough to be almost impossible to disprove, and a lack of proof that they didnt do it is likewise almost impossible to prove.

Blair agrees to provde legal support as best he can, despite not being a criminal lawyer, and as he gets involved with Marion and the case, finds he wants to continue giving both legal and emotional support. He does everything to help the women out, instigating investigations and doing the checks that the police seem unwilling or constrained not to take forward. Initially the police are not willing to press charges on the basis there is nothing more than one person's word against another. However, the national press get involved and soon whip the reading public's emotions into a frenzy, making the police reinvestigate the issue, and the women’s case makes its’ way into the assizes.

Considering how old this book is (first published in 1948) it’s both interesting and sad how little things have changed – especially around the press, and the general reading public, who takes things on the face of it. As expected the case appears for one day on the front page, they present a judgement on the Sharpes verses the innocent-looking 15 year old Betty, and the letters page (today’s Comment section) is inundated until late the following week with hysteria – which leads to some windows being smashed at The Franchise. However, it has almost died down when another gutter publication (previous heroes including a left wing killer being persecuted by his government who – shock – want to lock him up for being a “patriot” for killing people). Sadly things have not changed much as of today, only the vehicle.

The dénouement comes late in the story and is much of luck as anything. It leads to a showdown in court with the testimony of Betty being pulled apart and the façade of her innocence being shown to be false to all who were willing it to be true.
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LibraryThing member Figgles
A fascinating book, based on an earlier real life story about two eccentric and unpopular women, accused of kidnapping and mistreating a young schoolgirl. Robert Blair, a settled, respectable country lawyer is called in to assist them and finds himself drawn in to the bizarre case and the lives of his clients. Although initially a reader may find it a little dated, and conservative in outlook, the book is also is a hymn to decency and justice, in the face of a sentimental press, ill-informed do-gooders and a prejudiced public. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member annejacinta
Quite entertaining, provides a fascinating picture if England in the late 1940s, and an intriguing plot.
LibraryThing member neurodrew
The Franchise Affair
Josephine Tey
Monday, March 18, 2013 9:08 PM
A Folio edition, a tale of a lying teenager defaming two woman who live alone in a large inherited house. The description of Milford, England, and the life of the post-war era is exact and comical. The mystery is satisfyingly tidied up at the end.… (more)


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