The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

Penguin has recently re-published some of their classic crime and espionage novels in new “bottle-green” covers, remembering the classic green covers of their crime novels of old. For no reason at all, I picked up a novel I’d vaguely heard of but never read from a Waterstones display. The Franchise Affair was first published in 1948 and is set very much in a post-war Britain.

Our protagonist is Richard Blair, a country town solicitor who’s normal work involves sorting out wills and property issues. But when a girl accuses two women who live on their own a large country home, “The Franchise,” of kidnapping her for several weeks, he is dragged into proceedings. The two women claim no knowledge of the girl, but she does seem to have certain details about their home which surely couldn’t be just made up.

This is the small town world with a slightly rough edge. A major contributor to the story is how it’s portrayed in the media, and in particular in the tabloid Ack Emma which loves to write about lurid crimes such as this, and which has a massive readership lapping it up. (I confess that the name of the tabloid really confused me, but Googling showed that its name comes from the WWI phonetic alphabet and means A – M, or AM. Some parts of our language have been lost in the intervening 75 years.)

While Blair tries to investigate, and elicits various friends to help him, we’re never entirely sure of the pair’s guilt or innocence. It perhaps doesn’t help Blair that he becomes a little infatuated with the younger of the two.

I suspect that this was a little shocking when it came out, although that impact has perhaps been diminished over time. But a very enjoyable book all the same, and I shall look out for more Tey novels.