Today's Forgotten Book was written by an author I'd never read until recently. His name was J. Jefferson Farjeon (1883-1955), a prolific writer mainly associated with thrillers. He is best remembered as the author of Number 17, a play (and, later, novel) which was adapted into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock in 1932. I haven't seen the film, and it's not regarded as one of the great director's masterpieces. Even so, it's quite something to have been adapted by Hitchcock, and Farjeon was a cut above your average thriller writer.
The book I've read recently is Mystery in White, and it was first published in 1937. The setting is England, and the starting point is a train journey which is interrupted by very heavy snow. A motley assortment of passengers reluctantly start to get to know each other, and before long, murder is committed. Sounds familiar? Well, you might be tempted to think that this is a rip-off of Murder on the Orient Express, but it isn't. Although each book begins similarly, the stories travel along very different tracks.
I thought the first hundred pages or so of Mystery in White were absolutely terrific. So much so that I was reproaching myself for not having bothered to read Farjeon previously, even though I do have a copy of his Ben on the Job, with an excellent introduction by the late Harry Keating. A group of passengers leave the train, and come across a mysteriously deserted house. Soon someone else arrives, and the plot thickens form there. Some of the plot-thickening is a bit tortuous, but characterisation and humour are definitely above average.
Dorothy L.Sayers was a Farjeon fan, and so was Keating. More recently, Curt Evans has written very positively about him. You have to be a good writer to attract the interest of such expert judges,as well as Hitchcock, and Farjeon was certainly an accomplished novelist, who was trying to do something other than write conventional whoduntis. Mystery in White is an enjoyable read that deserves to be better known.
This post looks so lonely, no one having commented on it, so I will step into the breach.
Farjeon I find a very likable writer, though, like so many, he wrote too much (had to earn his bread) and often the finishes don't quite live up to the openings (a danger with thriller writers). But I think some of his work, at least, should be revived.
Thanks, Curt, not only for this opinion, which seems exactly right, but also because you were one of those who alerted me to Farjeon's merits originally.
I'd not heard of Farjeon, but was able to get Room Number Six through the library. It reminded me of a 1930s Hitchcock film.... young man falsely suspected of murder must solve the crime with the aid of an attractive, witty young woman who he's just met...
A little formulaic, but a quick enjoyable read. But this was the only book by him in the library system.
I was reading it in bed when my wife took note and showed me she had a book by his sister, Eleanor, on her night stand. It's a small world after all...
Thanks for the post and introducing me to Farjeon!
Martin, I see where this title is going to be reprinted in the British Crime Classics series in November 2014 (ISBN: 071235770X).
That's right, Ted, and I've written the intro!
That's terrific! This is going to the top of my Christmas list.
I just finished it, and SO enjoyed the book. I especially loved your introduction which I read after I finished the book. Very interesting that Eleanor F. was his sister. I knew her name from children's books and of course that hymn/song - one of the very best ones ever.
Thanks, Nan, for the kind words. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book.
Hello from the year 2020, Martin! :)
My partner asked me to recommend some holiday-themed classic mystery novels, and I handed over three from my shelves:
Groaning Spinney by Gladys Mitchell
Thou Shell of Death by Nicholas Blake
Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon
It gave me a reason to reread your excellent introduction to the latter, reprinted for the BLCC series. I was struck by how much information and engaging detail you provided in that brief introduction. You are an amazing resource for mystery fans everywhere! Please keep up your winning mix of fiction writing and genre research, and happy impending holidays. Cheers - JH
Much appreciated, Jason, thanks. I'm glad to say that there is a rich mix of Crime Classics coming along in 2021 and as for the fiction, I've just started a new novel set in 1930, with a Lake District Mystery coming out next year. So - all systems go!
That all sounds great! I look forward to reading much classic and contemporary crime in the new year! Best wishes with all your projects --- JH
Thanks, Jason, and all the best to you too.
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