Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon – review

Published by British Library

Publication date 25 September 2014

Source – own copy

On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.

Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

This classic Christmas mystery is republished for the first time since the 1930s, with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards

It’s Christmas Eve 1937 and the snow that had been falling for the last few days has increased. Five passengers on a train find themselves stranded in the snow near the village of Hemmersby. Deciding to leave the train and try to make it to the village station they soon become lost in the snow, saved by finding a house. The house however is deserted, though fires are lit and tea has been made. The passengers must find out why the house is empty when it emerges there is a murderer on the loose.

The British Library Crime Classics series features a whole host of novels long forgotten since their original publication. The craze for Christie esque stories and a hankering for a bygone time ensure that there is always an audience for such stories and there is something gently reassuring about them. There are no forensics to aid with detection, no computer searches or DNA data banks. Most of the murders aren’t gruesomely described and the perpetrators are found by old-fashioned deduction and a little luck.

Mystery in White is an example of a locked room mystery. A limited cast of characters are thrown together, stranded in the snow in deserted house. A house where it is apparently mysterious things have occurred.

This isn’t the usual murder mystery as the murderer and the victim are both unknown. There aren’t really any clues to follow but supposition from one the five passengers stranded together in a deserted country house. The story is a mixture of crime with a hint of a ghost story about it, a slightly strange amalgam that took me some time to get used to. There were asides and tangents that eventually pulled together but the denouement was interesting.  The cast of characters were a mixed bunch. Some annoying, some seemingly adding little to the story and others who add a warmth and depth to the story.

The book was an interesting insight into the interests and believes of some people from the 1930s, the way of life, language and styles always fascinating. Whilst not my favourite of the books I’ve read from the series so far, and not as engaging as I would have hoped, there is a charm to the novel which I have come to expect from a British Library Crime Classic and Mystery in White fits in with what I would call a good Sunday afternoon read.

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