The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey (Shane's book 13, 2011)

Though the 'Golden Age' of crime fiction is generally considered to have ended with the Second World War, this novel, published in 1948, is very much in the golden age tradition. It's a mystery that centres on a country house, features a host of upper and upper-middle class characters and, despite some devious criminality, order is restored at the end. [amtap book:isbn=0099536838]

I find golden age crime novels comforting in a funny sort of way. They are more like puzzles than novels and, as with any genre fiction, the adherence to a template offers a reassuring familiarity. The Franchise Affair is considered one of the classics of its kind so everything should have been in place for an enjoyable read.The 'affair' in question concerns Betty Kane, a young woman who, after several days missing, goes to the police and says she was held hostage and beaten by the owners of The Franchise, a remote country house. Kane describes several features of the house in remarkable detail and the case against the owners, Marion Sharpe and her mother, looks iron-clad but they protest their innocence. Marion turns to a local solicitor, Robert Blair, for help.

The solution to the mystery is arrived at fairly early on and Blair spends the rest of the book trying to find the proof he needs. The story plods along without ever being either dull or absorbing. There are no real twists, just a few gentle curves. It's all perfectly pleasant but little more.

Tey's writing serves her purpose well. She's concise, witty and her characters have a degree of individuality about them, while all feeling slightly familiar. She builds up a charming picture of sedate country life that is slowly beginning to face modernity and a busier, noisier existence.

The most interesting thing for me was the class snobbery running through the book. Tey's characters are divided into decent and not so decent types, with the more upper class ones falling into the former category. Aside from a couple of 'salt of the earth' common types, the lower class characters are generally brash or dishonest.

Marion goes to Robert, who is a family solicitor, rather than the local criminal lawyer because the latter is "not my sort". There are also suggestions that Kane's background explains her behaviour. It's all very subtle and probably subconscious onand, from this vantage point, it seems silly rather than offensive.

This is a pleasant enough book but I'm not sure that its status as a classic is merited. If you want to read a golden age classic, I'd recommend Trent's Last Case or The Moving Toyshop ahead of this.