And the Christmas crime stories just keep on coming and coming!
There’s something really nice about a murder at Christmas, isn’t it? Or at least a murder at Christmas in a story!
Unlike Silent Nights and Crimson Snow, which are short story collections, Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon is a novel in itself (though like all British crime stories in its heyday, it’s also quite a short book and can easily be finished in less than a day.) It’s also another British Library Crime Classics story. Hey, what can I say? I’m addicted to the things!
On Christmas Eve, the 11.37 train from Euston has been forced to come to a halt on the tracks near the village of Hemmersby due to heavy snow. Several passengers from one of the carriages bond over the delay, then agree to set out for Hemmersby in search of warm beds or at least another train line. The motley assortment – which include a chorus girl, an elderly bore (who’s also a bit of a perv), a young clerk, a brother and sister, and a psychic ghost hunter – eventually get lost in the snowstorm and end up instead at an empty house. But the fires are stoked, the tea things are laid out and the kettle is boiling over… so who lives here and where have they gone? And is there someone upstairs behind a locked door?
This story is reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap where guests at a country house are similarly snowed in, but with an added spooky twist that had me glancing over my shoulder as I read the book late at night! I liked the variety of characters brought together and I have to say although the smart and fashionable Lydia became my favourite character early on, I also developed a soft spot for Jessie Noyes, the chorus girl. I think that of all the characters, she probably had the most development, thanks especially to her humorous diary entries (one notable entry mentions in an offhand manner the time a burglar broke into her house and they ended up telling each other’s fortunes). Jessie is a sweet kid and can’t help the circumstances she was born in, and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her and also wishing things turned out better for her in the end.
One thing I noticed while reading the book – which is an indication of the time it was written in – is the very clear class divisions (as well as a touch of snobbery) which grows more noticeable throughout the book, particularly when Farjeon brings in a couple more new characters closer to the end. Also, I was a little bit tired of the men trying to ‘protect’ the women all the time and attempting to keep them in the dark when it was quite clear that Lydia is probably the most clearheaded of the lot and quite capable of looking after herself! It was very annoying how they forced her out of the story much of the time. I wanted more Lydia in the book!
If all stories by J. Jefferson Farjeon are like Mystery in White, I can see myself very fast consuming all his books at the same pace in which I devour all the yummy sides and the pudding in brandy sauce at Christmastime – super fast! This was a lovely little cozy mystery and I thought it had a true original touch about it. (Plus anything with a touch of spookiness in it always gets a “yes, please!” from me!) A fun Christmas read, especially if it’s snowing outside!