Brat Farrar is an orphan who has grown up without a sense of belonging. Although his many adventures have taken him throughout Europe, Mexico, and the United States, he has recently returned to his native England. There he meets a stranger who has a shocking proposition for him. Brat shares a strong resemblance to the Ashby family, whose oldest son Patrick supposedly committed suicide at the age of 13. Because Patrick’s body was never found, however, he was never conclusively proved dead. The stranger, a distant connection of the Ashbys, suggests that Brat go to the Ashby estate claiming to be Patrick; Brat will then inherit the estate and give the stranger a cut. Brat is appalled by the notion at first, but eventually his sense of adventure prompts him to agree to the scheme. As he meets the various members of the Ashby family, however, Brat is torn between guilt over deceiving them and a fierce desire to belong to their family. He also senses a strong tension within the household, which eventually leads him to question what really happened to Patrick Ashby all those years ago.
I didn’t love my first encounter with Josephine Tey (The Daughter of Time), so I was a bit apprehensive about starting this book. I’m glad I decided to give her a second chance, though, because I really liked it! I always enjoy reading books set in mid-20th-century England, and in this book the setting is particularly well rendered. Brat Farrar is a compelling central character, too; I wasn’t expecting to like him, given that he’s essentially a con man, but I did. The book is written in the third person, but I still felt like I was inside his head, experiencing his thoughts and emotions. I also liked the Ashbys, especially Aunt Bee; they are all vivid and believable characters in their own right. I do think it’s a little misleading to call this book a mystery, since the question of what happened to Patrick isn’t really the central focus of the novel. Rather, the book takes its time introducing Brat to the Ashbys and to his new life as the owner of an estate that breeds and races horses. So while the mystery plot does exist, it’s really secondary to the development of the characters, especially Brat. All in all, the book reads to me like a more literary version of Agatha Christie (and I mean that in a good way!). I’d definitely recommend it to fans of this type of mystery.