Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Xmas Travel Arrangements: Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon

published  1937








Mr Maltby turned towards the staircase. “Here comes Miss Strange, and the next thing we need is her story.”

There was a general movement as Nora Strange came down the stairs, and David jumped quickly to his feet. Without her heavy coat – she was wearing a white silk blouse and light brown skirt – some ethereal quality in her seemed to be accentuated, but it was not the ghostly quality that lay around Valley House like a dank mist. It was something delicately fragile, that gave her a human luminosity. 


“Come and sit down and get warm.” 

“Yes, sit here,” added Jessie, moving her legs to make room on the couch. “This is the best place, I mustn’t hog it.”





The two other men were regarding [Nora] silently. Her type of beauty, as Lydia’s, was beyond the reach of such sensualists as Mr Hopkins, and although he would have awarded both Lydia and Nora higher marks than Jessie in a Beauty Contest, he infinitely preferred the chorus girl’s prettiness because his experience had proved it more accessible.





observations: This is just what you need over Christmas: a very traditional mystery story, written in the 1930s, with a disparate group of strangers trapped together by the weather. There’s murder in someone’s past and future. Not only that, but the participants got there by train… it was immobilized by the snow, so one group of passengers got off it to walk to safety. Ironic, because in fact they got lost and ended up at an empty house. Empty NOW, though the fire is lit, the kettle is boiling, everything is ready for tea. Who has left the house and why? What is going on here?

The group – “we must all show the team spirit” - includes a platinum blonde chorus girl, and a nice upmarket young lady and her brother, and a member of the Society for Psychical Research, and a clerk, and a bore. So, again, just what you need for an expansive plot.

The book is an easy read and good fun – Jessie’s diary entries are very funny, and if things look like calming down there’ll be a sentence like this one: “A terrified shriek pierced the darkness, lending it a new horror.”

The group use up the food from the pantry, making careful note of what they must owe their unknown hosts, and I was surprised to find that spaghetti was on the menu – it’s not clear if this was dried or tinned.

The book has been reprinted in an initiative by the British Library, and with help and an introduction from blogfriend Martin Edwards, who always does a great job championing forgotten classics – he is a consultant to the series of reprints. And, this one is doing amazingly well: you may well have seen the distinctive cover on bookshop tables, and I’m not surprised people found it irresistible. What a great Christmas present or stocking filler.




The two women are from the lovely Clover Vintage tumblr. I couldn’t resist finding a picture of a snowy train, like the cover, even though  very little of the book actually happens on the train (apart, I should say, from one murder), and the train is never moving during the action. The photo is actually a 1937 steam engine, being used in 2009 for a Christmas special trip. One can only hope – it was the Christmas Carol Special – that it was less incident-filled and at the same time less stationary than the journey in the book. The photo was taken by Evelyn Simak.

Curt at The Passing Tramp blog points us in the direction of his blogposts on Farjeon, and his review of this book, several years ago - well worth a look, this is the link.

26 comments:

  1. Moira, this sounds like a very suitable book to read this season. I like mysteries set in and around trains though, I confess, I don't read many of those. The author is absolutely new to me.

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    1. Prashant: suitable for the season is exactly right - it is very atmospheric, with the snow, the train and the deserted house...

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  2. Moira - Yes, indeed; trust Martin for some great classic crime fiction that deserves modern attention. And this one does seem like a nicely-done Golden Age mystery. That train element just adds to the plot in my opinion. Interesting too how some really fine writers seem to have gotten 'left by the wayside' and others are still remembered.

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    1. A happy story all round: a forgotten book resuscitated, Martin vindicated, sales of real books, and encouragement for the republication of more classics I hope. Plus plenty of people will get this lovely volume in their Christmas stocking....

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  3. I reviewed this one three years ago this Christmas, in fact I started out my blog with a series of posts about Farjeon (my blog is named after his tramp character Ben). I think I was the first blogger ever to write about Farjeon's mysteries. I have a faint suspicion my blog post may have been the genesis of this book's reprinting. Stranger things have happened!

    http://thepassingtramp.blogspot.com/2011/12/late-christmas-number-mystery-in-white.html

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    1. Curt, I have added a note to this effect in the main body of the text above, thanks....

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  4. Interestingly, I got an email two years ago from the executor of the Farjeon literary estate who told me:

    "As you've suggested Joe is shamefully forgotten and
    deserves something better."

    I responded, but never heard from her again. Too bad, but at least the BL has taken up the cause. They've made a fine success of it.

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    1. Interesting. Thanks for sharing the extra info, and perhaps we should be thanking you for the reprint....

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  5. I'll just have to get this one Moira, sound like just too much fun to miss - thanks.

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    1. I think the tide of history is unstoppable Sergio - we all need to buy this book and enjoy it in a festive manner....

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    2. Got it last night as it was prominently on display in Waterstone's and I just couldn't resist - all your fault ... :)

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  6. Moira: I am at a café in an Indigo bookstore in Calgary when I read the post. I immediately made a search for Mystery in White. Alas, nary a copy in the store. Tens of thousands of books but not a single J Jefferson Farjeon. I have comforted myself by buying a non-fiction book about the last man hung in Alberta in 1960.

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    1. That sounds like a nice cheery read Bill. Maybe the Farjeon isn't published in Canada (yet)? I don't suppose you find snow as romantic as we do here....

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    2. Moira: Not much romance for me in snow except at Christmas or, once in awhile, when it is calm and there are big flakes floating softly down there is a magical feel to walking outside.

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    3. That's what I thought - in the UK we get all romantic about it till it comes, and then we moan....

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  7. Wishing you and your family a lovely Christmas. And all the best for the New Year too! Cheers from Carole's Chatter

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    1. Thanks Carole, and a happy Christmas to you and yours too.

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  8. I am glad you read this one and liked it. Now I am sure I will read it someday. I love anything connected with trains; even just the picture on the cover is enough. The images you found are great too. It is almost Christmas and I have a couple more posts on that coming.

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    1. Well this is one for a future Christmas for you Tracy. As I say above, the train doesn't really feature all that much, but the atmosphere on it is very well done.

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  9. Delighted you enjoyed it, Moira. Twelve months ago,I would never have imagined the scale of the revival of interest in Golden Age books like Farjeon's. To see them piled high in Waterstone's is amazing. I'm so pleased that many of these long neglected book are becoming available again for a new generation of readers to enjoy.

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    1. It's lovely isn't it, like a Xmas fairytale! I remember reading the odd mention of this, and thinking I would look out for it - never would I have expected it would be front and centre in every bookshop. Hope for the future!

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  10. OK, it goes on the TBR list. Sounds like fun. But when will I find it and get to it is the question. Hopefully, it's findable over here.

    Happy holidays to everyone, Christmas, Chanukkah, Kwanzaa and my favorite, Winter Solstice.

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    1. Save it for next year Kathy. And a happy festive season to you too!

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  11. I did see this in Waterstones over the holidays and kept hands firmly in pockets......it's another bah humbug from me! (Perhaps two weeks off wasn't long enough!)

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    1. Definitely in Scrooge/Grinch mode - everyone likes this one too. How can you resist that picture of a train....

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