Robert Blair was about to knock off from a slow day at his law firm when the phone rang. It was Marion Sharpe on the line, a local woman of quiet disposition who lived with her mother at their decrepit country house, The Franchise. It appeared that she was in some serious trouble: Miss Sharpe and her mother were accused of brutally kidnapping a demure young woman named Betty Kane. Miss Kane's claims seemed highly unlikely, even to Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, until she described her prison — the attic room with its cracked window, the kitchen, and the old trunks — which sounded remarkably like The Franchise. Yet Marion Sharpe claimed the Kane girl had never been there, let alone been held captive for an entire month! Not believing Betty Kane's story, Solicitor Blair takes up the case and, in a dazzling feat of amateur detective work, solves the unbelievable mystery that stumped even Inspector Grant.
Very snug indeed was Robert Blair’s life as a bachelor solicitor in Milford, England. He wouldn’t have been a man, though, if he hadn’t noticed the two women who lived in the atrocious Regency mansion known as “The Franchise.” He thought the older woman very, very forbidding, and the younger — well, not quite so forbidding.
Now, it seemed, both mother and daughter were in trouble — accused of imprisoning a young girl for a whole month, beating and half starving her. The victim was Betty Kane, a girl in a modest school-girl dress, with candid slate-blue eyes, and an appealing look of innocence. Betty remembered what had happened perfectly, and told a heart-rending tale of terror and escape.
But if Betty had not been at The Franchise, where had she been for a whole month, and what was she doing? With every sentimentalist mourning over “poor Betty Kane,” and a blatant tabloid fanning the flames, the women were in danger from more hands than those of the law.
The Franchise Affair resembles some of the best work of Poe in its introduction of an apparently inhuman evil in an otherwise sedate country setting. Robert Blair, a lawyer who prides himself on his ability to avoid work of any significance, is interrupted one evening by a phone call from Marion Sharpe. Ms. Sharpe and her mother live in a run-down estate known as the Franchise, and their lives drew little attention until Betty Kane charged them with an unthinkable crime. Ms. Kane, having disappeared for a month, now says that she was held captive in the attic of the Franchise during her entire absence. While her story seems absurd, her recollection of minute details about the interior of the house sway even Scotland Yard.
Blair — who Ms. Sharpe has chosen for her defense because, as she says, he is "someone of my own sort"— must dust off his neurons and undertake some serious sleuthing if his client is to beat these serious charges. As with all fine mysteries, one has the sense of being in a sea of clues with a solution just out of reach. The Franchise Affair is a classic mystery, and also a superb record of country life in early twentieth century England.