It’s time for another British Library Crime Classic Review!
The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon is a book that I’m reading along with an Instagram book buddy for January. I’d previously read another of Farjeon’s novels over Christmas, Mystery in White, and enjoyed it so I was looking forward to this one.
Richard Temperley arrives at the Euston train station in London in the wee hours of a foggy morning. It’s too early to show up on his sister’s doorstep so he takes the advice of a porter and heads to the smokeroom of a nearby hotel to catch a few hours of sleep. So does his fellow carriage mate, a man whose loud snoring has kept Richard up most of the night. But a little while later when Richard realises his fellow commuter is no longer snoring, he checks on him and realises – the man has been shot dead! And the main suspect? A beautiful young woman who rapidly flees the scene, leaving Richard with her bag containing her address and a latchkey to her apartment (much more helpful than Cinderella’s shoe, in any case).
As I was reading this book, I was constantly reminded of Zodiac (the movie based on the real-life Zodiac killings) and not just because of the alliterative similarities featuring the letter Z. Like the Zodiac Killer, the Z Murders focuses on the hunt for a ruthless serial killer and evokes the same chilling tone, particularly in the presence of the countryman who isn’t quite who he makes himself out to be and his grotesque partner. The latter, especially, reminds me of a James Bond villain with his appearance and choice of weaponry, which might perhaps have been more believable in the 1930s but for today’s modern reader smacks of comedic disbelief.
There are yet more elements of a Bond movie scattered throughout this book, including the chase over England in the hunt of the killer, the encounters between various characters on a train, and of course the presence of the beautiful mysterious damsel that has so fascinated our protagonist. The fast-blossoming romance (way too fast for a modern girl like me) and Richard’s utter and steadfast belief of her innocence from the very beginning, based, it would seem, on one glimpse of a pretty face and not a single shred of evidence, had me rolling my eyes a little and thinking it would serve Richard right if the girl was the killer and popped him one with a gun.
Campy elements, class problems and a poor basis for romance aside, Dorothy Sayers once said of Farjeon that he was “unsurpassed for creepy skill in mysterious adventures” and she’s not wrong for he definitely succeeded in putting chills up my spine both in Mystery in White and The Z Murders. It’s not so much a cozy mystery as it is a cozy thriller tailor-made to be read on a howling stormy night snuggled up on your sofa with a cup of hot cocoa. If you like an entertaining 1930s British escapism thriller in the vein of Hitchcock and James Bond movies, you’d like Farjeon’s The Z Murders.