Friday, 7 February 2014

Forgotten Book - Mystery in White

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.   

8 comments:

The Passing Tramp said...

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.

Martin Edwards said...

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.

Bob_in_MA said...

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!

Ted said...

Martin, I see where this title is going to be reprinted in the British Crime Classics series in November 2014 (ISBN: 071235770X).

Martin Edwards said...

That's right, Ted, and I've written the intro!

Ted said...

That's terrific! This is going to the top of my Christmas list.

Nan said...

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.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Nan, for the kind words. I'm so glad you enjoyed the book.