The Franchise Affair (1948) by Josephine Tey

SPOILER WARNING – This post is best read if you already know the solution to this mystery.

During my time blogging I have re-read several of Tey’s novels. But only one of them, The Singing Sands (1952), came out of the experience victorious. The others unfortunately were less enjoyable re-reads, so much so that I decided to not re-read any more. I think my tastes in mystery fiction must have changed, or perhaps because blogging makes me read more mindfully, I was more aware of what wasn’t working for me. So, you can imagine my trepidation when Tey was chosen for my book group read this month. Thankfully the book selected was not Miss Pym Disposes (1946), as that was an infuriating read the first time round! I was partially buoyed by seeing that both Jim at The Invisible Event and Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery blog both loved The Franchise Affair. I say partially because me being me, I  began to worry about the possibility of being the odd one out and being the only group member who didn’t like it. So having taken a deep breath, I plunged into the book. But what did I make of it?

2022 Penguin edition of Tey's The Franchise Affair. it shows a woman in purple leaning against a white car. The scene is seen from above.


I was unimpressed with many of the blurbs that I found online as they all misrepresent the book by strongly suggesting that Inspector Grant is the lead sleuth, when in fact his page time is minimal, and he does no on the page detection. If anything, he is a possible antagonistic for our leading female characters under suspicion. However, I think the blurb for the Arrow Books edition is more accurate, even if it presents Grant more neutrally.

‘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…’

Overall Thoughts

So, did I love it or hate it?

I think on balance I am in neither camp, more upper middle. I am glad I did not struggle with it as much as I did with some of Tey’s other mysteries, but I noticed that it was a bit touch and go in the opening third. Tey very much had to fight for my attention in the first 100 or so pages and her chances of a good rating were definitely dicey at that stage. Nevertheless, after that point I found myself getting into the plot and characters more. However, let’s take a closer look at the book.

Although there is an extramarital affair involved in the story, I would say the title is more likely to be adopting the language of newspapers. A core component of this plot and what in fact drives it, is the trial by newspaper/public opinion that the Sharpes face. It is the newspapers which make the accusation public knowledge and force the hand of the police to push the case further. In turn the publicity sets negative community opinion aflame and it does not remain just at words but develops into frighteningly violent and destructive acts.

The mystery opens in Robert Blair’s office (that character which many blurbs forget to mention) and we are told about his usual office routines, even down to how the tea breaks are conducted:

‘[…] and it was typical of Blair, Hayward and Bennet that tea was no affair of a japanned tin tray and a kitchen cup. At 3:50 exactly on every working day Miss Tuff bore into his office a lacquer tray covered with a fair white cloth and bearing a cup of tea in blue-patterned china, and, on a plate to match, two biscuits; petit-beurre Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, digestive Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.’

These details are inconsequential in and of themselves and don’t provide the most dynamic of beginnings, but I think this setting was chosen to emphasise respectability, order and stability. It is an image built up rapidly and strongly, so its tranquillity can be even more smashed by the case Blair gets pulled into. In turn this focus on the office setting shines a light on Blair’s own personality, as well as the early signs that maybe he wants a little adventure in his life. Miss Tuff, his secretary, is a minor character in the tale, but I found her quite amusing, and I picture her like Miss Higgins in Call the Midwife.

Another key setting of the first few chapters is the country house the Sharpes have inherited. It is no one’s Downton Abbey, but nor is it a manageable home for two women to maintain either, especially since it is too isolated a place to encourage servants to stay at. Its high walls are symbolic, but they are also a crucial part of the mystery plot, as the police and Sharpes alike wonder how Betty Kane could describe their home quite so well, since it is so enclosed. When Blair first sees it, he thinks that this ‘place was as irrelevant, as isolated as a child’s toy dropped by the wayside.’ I think this implies that the house and what it represents is something of the past, obsolete. Blair’s thoughts bleed further into the narration:

‘It was the fallen-on-evil-times look of the house – although that was evident; it was the sheer ugliness of it. either it had been built too late to share in the graceful period, or the builder had lacked an architect’s eye. He had used the idiom of the time, but it had apparently not been native to him. everything was just a little wrong: the windows the wrong size by half a foot, wrongly placed by not much more; the doorway the wrong width, and the flight of steps the wrong height. The total result was that instead of the bland contentment of its period the house had a hard stare. An antagonistic, questioning stare. As he walked across the courtyard to the unwelcoming door Robert knew what it reminded him of: a dog that has been suddenly wakened from sleep by the advent of a stranger, propped on his forelegs, uncertain for a moment whether to attack or merely bark. It had the same what-are-you-doing-here? expression.’

I don’t think it is stretching things too far to opine that the reader is meant to make a link between the house and its occupants. However, I would not suggest that there is a complete mirroring of the Sharpes’ personality in the house architecture. There is something standoffish about them, or at least something rather self-sufficient and self-contained about them, but when characters such as Blair interact with the Sharpes, there is nothing overly antisocial about them. They put people from all walks of life at their ease. Nevertheless, the impressions the house externally gives, does fuel the prejudices the local community have against them. As I have mentioned on my blog previously, I find post-WW2 mysteries tend to depict the degeneration of the country house and the way of life it symbolised. Tey’s novel is another such example in my opinion, not least because the Sharpes’ home is set alight and burnt beyond usability at the end of the novel, pushing them to go and live with relations in Canada.

One of the few things I could hold on to during the first third, which I enjoyed were Marion Sharpe’s mother’s brilliant one-liners. Here are my two favourite examples:

“On the contrary, Inspector. I look forward to the meeting with impatience. It is not every afternoon, I assure you, that I go to my rest a dull old woman and rise a potential monster.”

“For two people who are on beating terms, we are distressingly ill acquainted.”

I pondered a great deal during the first third of the novel why it felt so slow and why my attention kept flagging and I am not sure I have any definitive answers. Possibly it was because I knew the plot really well going in and I have also watched the 1951 film adaptation and a great deal of that opening third is concerned with waiting for something to happen which will force the hand of Blair to get more involved. Part of me just really wanted things to hurry up! Yet once I got over the 100 page mark and Blair gets fully into his amateur sleuthing role, I felt this situation improved and I found my attention was better held.

Something else I reflected upon whilst reading the book is why as a reader I naturally assumed the Sharpes were innocent. Was it just me or is this an expectation crime fiction writers have built within us? Yet the narrative itself is interesting in how in the first half of the book it sows seeds of doubt about the Sharpes (i.e., are they guilty?) and then in the second half these doubts then switch to whether the Sharpes will be saved from wrongful conviction. Many of the local characters have a positive bias towards the young Betty Kane who can provide a respectable and innocent demeanour. Yet because the Sharpes are older and unattached, as well as unconnected socially within the community, it is quickly assumed that they must be women who have been left alone too long and have gone mad and therefore “bad”. It is this dichotomy which partially encouraged me as a reader to give the Sharpes my support. Tey’s book is interesting in that it turns things upside down. The alleged victim is revealed to be the real villain and the two accused women are shown to be innocent. It intrigues me to wonder that if this book was written for the first time in 2023, would this configuration be changed? Would a writer want to promote a different message?

This re-read also reminded me of an essay I read in The Ageless Agatha Christie: Essays on the Mysteries and the Legacy (2016) edited by J. C. Bernthal. It was called ‘Queer Girls, Bad Girls, Dead Girls: Post-War Culture and the Modern Girl’ and it was written by Sarah Bernstein. The author looks at children in Christie’s post-war narratives, young girls in particular, who often end up dead or dangerous and as a demographic are seen as a cause for ‘anxiety’. The texts she analyses are Crooked House (1949), Dead Man’s Folly (1956) and Hallowe’en Party (1969). I wondered if Tey’s book could also be argued to be tapping into this cultural interest and ‘anxiety’ of the era. Bernstein noted that studies released during the mid-20th century were beginning to show that coming from broken home was a significant contributory factor in juvenile crime. Yet how does Tey’s mystery interact with this conclusion? Given the warm and loving adoptive home Betty Kane receives, I feel like the narrative does not support the broken home theory and instead characters such as Blair (I think) seem to side more with Betty’s criminal behaviour being almost inherited from her mother and endorsed by her father’s indulgent parenting style. Well, that is the impression that the story gave me, but I thought it interesting that Tey’s book was swimming in the opposite direction to the sociology and psychological studies of the time.

Those used to Inspector Grant being at the centre of the mysteries he features in, might be surprised by his minimal role in this book. He is very much a background and dare I say it a minor character. Nevertheless, it was interesting seeing him from the outside and as an outsider in a way, since he is not on the side which seeks to prove the Sharpes innocent. That said he is fair minded when the accusation is first brought to his attention and it is only when the evidence begins to stack up against the Sharpes that he begins to become more of a threat to their freedom. Blair only just manages to stop him from arresting them prior to the trial and the local inspector provides an interesting sidelight on why Grant might have been so keen to not just issue the Sharpes with a summons:

“Well, it’s my belief – strictly between ourselves – that he can’t forgive them for fooling him. The Sharpes, I mean. He’s famous at the Yard for his good judgement of people, you see; and again between ourselves, he didn’t much care for the Kane girl or her story; and he liked them even less when he had seen the Franchise people, in spite of all the evidence. Now he thinks the wool was pulled over his eyes, and he’s not taking it lightly. It would have given him a lot of pleasure, I imagine, to produce that warrant in their drawing-room.”

This is not a side we see of Grant in the other cases he investigates.

So to the ending. Whilst my attention had revived by this point, I think the denouement is a mixture of strengths and weaknesses.


  • In order to break the case wide open an 11th hour witness from Copenhagen is required, as well as another key witness who has previously been out of the country. This level of deus ex machina is never entirely satisfying for me, however part of me wonders what other plot device could have been used, given the circumstances Tey had created for her characters.
  • Betty Kane is under used in the trial finale and we get little to no on page reaction from her when the truth is revealed, and her lies have been exposed. I think this is a shame as it would have added to the drama of the piece. Although, playing devil’s advocate I wonder if Tey was wanting the story to be more about the Sharpes and there was some level of demotion in the choice to keep Kane to a minimum in the final scenes. My memory fails me, but I am wondering if the film adaptation makes the trial scene more dramatic.
  • I would also have liked to have seen Grant’s reaction to the trial result as well, as I think it would have created a pleasing symmetry to the book as a whole, as he was there at the start when the accusation was brought forward.


  • I liked the sensitivity that Blair and the Sharpes show at the end, when they feel sad about how the adoptive mother of Betty will be feeling, having been thoroughly disillusioned about the girl she loved so much.
  • I also liked how the love element is handled at the end.

Rating: 4.25/5 (I didn’t feel I could give as high endorsement as others, but still a good read, which did win me over.)


  1. Mrs. Sharpe and the trial testimony were entertaining and the book illustrates that the nature versus nurture debate has been raging for a long time, but I appreciate this one primarily for the quality of the prose and the depiction of Robert and Marion as two middle-aged people at a crossroads with their lives being turned upside down and where they go from there. I loved Marion’s response to Robert at the end, and also how he then reacts.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Damn it, Kate, I KNEW that looking up the Bernthal book on your blog would cause me to lose the half of my comment that I had already written, EVEN THOUGH I opened a new window. So now I have to start all over!!!!!!

    Moving on . . .

    I’ll save most of my responses to your review for Book Club, but I wanted to make a couple of points. First, I agree with Elizabeth about the relationship between Robert and Marion, which offers up as much suspense in its way as the mystery proper. The fact that we don’t know until the last page what’s in store for them (and even then . . . ) and that all this helps transform Robert from a mildly unhappy fuddy-duddy (so BEAUTIFULLY and HUMOROUSLY described at the beginning, KATE!!!) to a man who can express his feelings and try for something/someone that’s dangerous and uncertain.

    Regarding the trial: I loved it, and I don’t see that final pair of witnesses as examples of a deus ex machina so much as the welcome result of an investigator’s hard work that took up a third of the novel. I see “DeM” as an “out of nowhere” surprise, like the letter found at the end of The Mysterious Affair at Styles. The film lifts dialogue wholesale out of the novel for the trial, while mysteriously stripping it of all humor and joy. It’s a boring ol’ movie, as I explained in my own review.


    Finally, I just have to comment on the gist of Sarah Bernstein’s article, which I must admit I haven’t read. I did go back to your review of it (hence, my having to reconstruct this response!!!) and I don’t quite see the validity of Bernstein’s argument or the connection to Tey. The child in Crooked House is pre-teen and is supposedly the one person in the family to carry the “crookedness” in her brain in the form of psychopathy. She does not come from a broken home; we might assume from her parents that she is a bit ignored, but only in the way that all well-off British children seem to be foisted onto nannies and tutors while Mummy appears on the stage and Daddy pretends to write books. I don’t think any of that is suggested to have caused Josephine’s twisted behavior, nor do I see any aspect of the war that just preceded making her crazy. In fact, her grandfather benefited from the war as a black-market profiteer (it is suggested), which would give his family even more of the “good life.” Maybe being spoiled makes you crazy. If so, spoil me . . . . .

    Meanwhile, Joyce from Hallowe’en Party is basically a rerun of Marlene from Dead Man’s Folly: two girls who used another person’s witnessing suspicious events to garner attention. Marlene is VERY adolescent but doesn’t come from a broken home, while Joyce felt more on the cusp of adolescence and was, like everyone in that admittedly broken family, a thoroughly bad lot. You mention that Bernstein deals with his pair much less in her analysis. And what, I wonder, does she make of all the thoroughly non-delinquent girls of Cat of Many Pigeons or the adorable young invalid in The Clocks? Color me dubious!

    Meanwhile, Betty Kane is a great example of what Christie has Miss Marple allude to in A Murder Is Announced, where the war caused people not to know each other with certainty anymore. Betty has been shipped off to the country to escape the Blitz, which kills her parents. The woman who raises Betty loves an image of her without ever really knowing the child (“We always wanted a daughter!”), a feeling that is eventually mirrored by half of England! She never really understands Betty, how deeply the girl falls for the son of the house and how angry she gets when he meets another girl. Nor does the mother ever recognize the emotional warmth that is lacking in Betty. Tey creates a great example of a self-centered sociopath here, capable of fooling most of the people she comes in contact with . . . but not Stanley! I’m not sure if the war created that, or if it gave Betty an easier way to hiding it amongst relative strangers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Firstly, I feel your pain on losing a blog post comment mid-construction and I can see in your case it would be especially upsetting given how long your comment is lol I can see how you are supposed to find Blair’s description funny at the beginning but Tey’s prose just didn’t do it for me and we will just have to agree to disagree on the trial. The trial was far less dramatic to me than expected, the dialogue didn’t bring the tension and drama to live, and I think for a character who loves to be the centre of attention, Betty falls flat in the scene in which you would assume she would want to dominate. I am not sure she is true to her character in that respect.
      I think you might have got the wrong end of the stick with the Bernstein reference. Bernstein mentions the real life studies of the era which point to broken homes causing juvenile crime. However, what she does not say is that Christie’s books endorse it, the whole idea is that crime fiction was painting one picture of female juvenile criminal behaviour (i.e., it is down to nature mostly, with some environmental triggers depending on the book) whilst the studies were suggesting something different. The same can be said for Tey’s book, which I do say in my review does not endorse the broken home theory. The link for me was that Christie and Tey’s book feature a juvenile female in a position of criminality and arguably their inclusion is tapping into the cultural anxiety of the era about girls/young women post WW2. It is not that the war had turned girls “bad”, it is more that traditional expectations of female behaviour were being forced to confront societal changes and cultural changes in fashion, music etc. which were affecting how women (young and old) were choosing to act and some of these changes may have been considered “bad” at the time and hence caused anxiety. With something like Tey’s book, the danger posed by a young female like Betty Kane, to more traditional women like the Sharpes, is shown to be contained and defused – so the novel presents the danger but shows it as something which can be overcome. Crime fiction has used this principle with different dangers throughout its existence, the nature of the danger just changes depending on what the cultural anxiety of the time is. Not every crime writer does this, but enough did to make it a genre trend so to speak.
      I haven’t read your review yet, as I was saving it for after book group.


    • Since I am a lukewarm Tey fan I am not sure if I am the best person to make recommendations. The Daughter of Time is a historical cold case in which the hospitalised Inspector Grant tries to solve the murder of the princes in the tower. This might appeal if you enjoy armchair detection or in this case hospital bed detection looking at and thinking through documents. Brat Farrar is an imposter based mystery, its a non-series title. It is another popular one and certainly has its dramatic moments. It puts me in mind of Heyer’s Penhallow. Miss Pym Disposes is my least favourite purely because of Miss Pym herself and her irresponsible sleuthing behaviour. But again others have really enjoyed the school setting. The Singing Sands is my favourite and is one which is very focused on the mental health of Inspector Grant and the Scottish setting of the book. Not one for puzzle fiends. The remaining three are Inspector Grant cases. One is a countryside mystery, another involves a murdered actress, and then there is the man who dies in the cinema queue. Some are better clued than others, but if the prose style works for you and you enjoy Tey’s approach to characterisation then there is a lot to get out of her work. So my advice is probably to look at the blurbs, pick a milieu or theme which grabs you and give her go!


  3. There is a historical connection, it is Tey’s suggested solution to a famous 18th century case. I like the Daughter of Time More, but I suppose she could not do another investigation from a hospital bed.

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