Recently I was perusing lists of the top 100 crime novels of all time put out by the Crime Writers Association and the Mystery Writers of America. I consider myself a pretty avid crime reader however I was surprised to see an author who showed up a couple of times near the head of both lists: Josephine Tey. Turns out that her books are not reprinted much and are a bit hard to track down. I did manage to locate The Franchise Affair though.
The Franchise Affair is pretty tame as far as mysteries go but it was still an engaging read. The story is actually based on a notorious abduction case from the 18th century. Robert Blair , a small town lawyer, is called upon to represent 40ish Marion Sharpe and her aged mother when the police bring kidnap charges against them for allgedly seizing a schoolgirl named Betty Kane, imprisoning her in the attic of their large, remote country home known as The Franchise, then forcing her to work as their servant by starving and beating her until she escapes and turns them in. Blair champions the Sharpes cause but public opinion is firmly against them.
Tey's characters are believable, the plot is absorbing, but what makes this book work well is how she successfully plunges her readers immediately not only into the crime, but into the mounting apprehension surrounding the case up until the end. And although The Franchise Affair is set in the countryside, it is a sophisticated story, not just another British country house-based mystery.