This book has popped up on my radar screen several times - when I started it, I wasn't entirely sure where it might fit into Halloween bingo, but figured that I would be able to find someplace to slot it. After finishing, it fits into Amateur Sleuth, Murder Most Foul, Country House Mystery and Terrifying Women.
Those preliminaries out of the way, this was a really good book. It relies on the trope of the "prodigal son" or the "missing heir restored," but puts an interesting twist on that theme. Also, more generally, the writing is sublime.
We initially meet Brat Farrar when he is being persuaded to impersonate the missing Ashby heir, Patrick, who seems to have committed suicide by walking into the sea at the age of 13. A body was recovered and buried, but it was so badly decomposed that no identification could be made. Brat bears an uncanny resemblance to the missing Patrick, whose twin Simon has inherited Latchetts, the country manor seat of the Ashby's, in his stead.
As the story unfolds, Brat is accepted into the Ashby family and we are introduced to his new relations: Aunt Bee, the spinster aunt who has single-handedly saved the family from financial ruin by building up its fortunes with a horse breeding program, Simon, Brat's "twin," a brash 20 year old who has been superceded by the return of "Patrick," and who has seemingly accepted this with such equanimity, Eleanor, the sensible 18 year old cousin, and yet another pair of twins, Jane and Ruth, who are as different as two sides of the same coin. The domestic details of the family are doled out in a way that is both soothing and convincing.
However, it becomes clear early on that something is rotten in Denmark, and the tension continues to ratchet up between Brat and Simon.
Simon asks, "'Who are you?'
Brat sat looking at him for a long time.
'Don't you recognize me?'
'No. Who are you?'
Tey's ability to build suspense is incredible, and by the end of the book, I was reading as quickly as possible to get to the end of the book and learn the truth. In fact, I was reading so fast that I really need to go back and re-read the last two chapters to make sure I entirely understand the resolution of the book!
Highly recommended as an outstanding example of vintage crime fiction - the domestic details are perfectly rendered, the tension is built with unerring precision and the ending is startling but doesn't come out of left field.