Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Franchise Affair

Life had been sailing along rather comfortably, if not rather dully, for Robert Blair, senior partner of Blair, Hayward and Bennett, the next-to-only legal firm in the village of Milford. Miss Tuff had been relied upon to bring his tea (petit-beurre Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; digestives Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays) on the same lacquered tray with the same white linen napkin at precisely the same time for nearly a quarter of a century. As the last post of the day went at 3:45 in the afternoon, it was often Mr. Blair could knock off as soon as four for a late-afternoon round of golf.

Lassitude and golf weighed heavily on Mr. Blair's mind when on an afternoon in April, difficult to distinguish from thousands of others, the phone rang a minute after tea and the last post, and the Franchise affair began.

The facts of the case in Josephine Tey's The Franchise Affair (1949) turn out to be as sensational as they are seductively credible.  Robert Blair finds himself coming to the defense of two women whom the villagers quickly brand as witches. Are they guilty of the charges that are laid against them?

My dear readers, trying to work out whether they are or they are not quickly becomes the most compelling aspect of the novel.

Inspector Grant makes a small cameo appearance, but in actuality the investigation of the alleged crimes in the Franchise affair is up to Robert Blair. If Miss Lemon found anything wanting in this near-perfect mystery, it is that in the end, coincidence rather than the labour of the little grey cells put paid the mysteries of the Franchise affair. But it is a small criticism of what is an otherwise highly enjoyable whodunit.