Book Review Club: Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey #mystery #review

Brat Farrar
by Josephine Tey
First Published in 1949
Audio book narrated by Carole Boyd

audiobook cover

Dear FCC: I’d heard of this book for a long time, but had never read it. Then offered it as a Daily Deal for a substantial discount, so I bought a copy to listen to, and I’m so glad I did.

Logline from product description: “What begins as a ploy to claim an inheritance ends with the impostor’s life hanging in the balance.”

Brat Farrar bears an astonishing resemblance to the Ashby family of Latchetts estate near the south coast of England. They are preparing to celebrate the 21st birthday of heir Simon, whose elder twin brother committed suicide eight years ago at the age of 13.

Then we meet Brat (aka Bartholomew Farrell) an English orphan newly arrived home from the US. While strolling the streets of London, he is invited to lunch by a stranger, Alex Loding, nee Ledingham, an actor and black sheep who has an intimate knowledge of Ashby family affairs. Due to Brat’s uncanny resemblance to the Ashbys, Alex convinces him to pretend to be Patrick, whom they will say ran off rather than committing suicide. Brat almost does the right thing in saying no, until Alex mentions the Ashby horse farm. Brat is horse mad after spending time on a ranch in Texas. Though he has a moral compass, he succumbs to the temptation to be around prime English horse flesh. Alex coaches him on all things Ashby in return for Brat’s promise to share some of the inheritance with Alex.

What follows is a character study / mystery probing into the events of eight years ago that leads to a dramatic black moment. All is fully resolved at the end, of course.

twins cover

I like this cover showing the two young men, but with one in black and white.

I loved this book. Brat is a fascinating, three-dimensional character, and other than Simon, the Ashbys are charming, particularly the nine-year-old twins. The setting evokes a time and place that must have existed when the book was written, but seems quaint and idyllic to the modern reader. Except for the family secrets, of course.

My only criticism is that her time line really didn’t add up for the late 1940’s setting. I couldn’t figure out how some of the events in the past could have happened, given the history of WWII, but gave up trying to figure it out. It’s as if World War II never occurred other than one offhand comment late in the story. But that’s the history nerd in me. That one nitpick aside, I really loved this book.

As always, click on the graphic below for more great reviews in the Barrie Summy Book Review Club.


Book Review Club Button

Click icon for more book review blogs @Barrie Summy.

Book Review Club: The Moon in the Palace

Moon In the Palace coverThe Moon in the Palace
(The Empress of Bright Moon Duology Book 1)
by Weina Dai Randel

Set in 7th c. China, the book is about an ambitious girl aspiring to power to restore her family’s fortunes and place in society.

When Wu Mei 1s five, a monk comes to visit with her father, the governor of Shanxi Prefecture. Mei is her father’s favorite and he treats her like ta son, allowing her to dress in boy’s clothes. When the monk sees her, he makes a prophecy, not realizing it will come true. He looks in her face and says: “If the child were a girl, with this face… she would eclipse the light of the sun and shine brighter than the moon. She would reign over the kingdom that governs men. She would mother the emperors of the land but also be emperor in her own name. She would dismantle the house of lies but build the temple of the divine. She would dissolve the kingdom of ghosts but found a dynasty of souls. She would be immortal.”

After that, her father starts to groom her for life at the court of Emperor Taizong in Chang’an, present day Xhian. After her father dies, the family loses everything and is forced to live with the profligate son. Whe Mei is eleven, she receives a summons to the court and her adventure begins. She learns to navigate court protocol and also learns how treacherous court intrigue can be. She falls in love and risks death, but survives.

I loved this book. The setting was fascinating, a glimpse into China’s past. Mei was an engaging and admirable protagonist and the secondary characters are well-drawn.

I met the author at the recent Historical Novel Society and had a chance to speak to her briefly. She’s very soft spoken and was really nice to talk to. Someone asked if her book was popular in China and she said it hadn’t even been translated into Chinese. She said it’s not written in a way to please Chinese audiences. They don’t have our addiction to happy (or at least satisfying) endings, plus her main character would be too modern and assertive. For instance, Mei’s father reads The Art of War to her, and she uses Sun Tzu’s wisdom in her rise to power. Chinese readers wouldn’t accept that in this time period.

From the author’s note: The story is based on the one and only female ruler in Chinese history, Wu Zetian, also known as Empress Wu. Most of the male characters in the book are real, some of the female characters are real, but not all.

The author said on Amazon that she spent ten years researching the book and received 82 rejections before Sourcebooks agreed to take a chance on it, and that chance paid off. Here’s the list of accolades the book received, all well-deserved in my view:

  • Winner of RWA’s Rita Award for Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance
  • Nominated for Best Historical Fiction by Goodreads Choice Awards 2016
  • Nominated for Best First Historical by RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice Award 2016
  • Recommended by Texas Library Association’s 2017 Lariat List
  • A San Francisco Book Festival Honorable Mention

What have you been reading this summer?


As always, click on the graphic below for more great reviews in Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club.

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy