Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon
Published by British Library Publishing Division on September 28, 2014 (first published 1937)
Source: Purchased
Genres: Vintage Mystery
Pages: 122
Format: eBook
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On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.

Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

The dog and I were home one Saturday night when Amber and David went off to watch a hockey game. I hadn’t been able to dig out my box of Christmas books yet, but was in the mood for a vintage seasonal mystery. Someone, somewhere said good things about Mystery in White by Farjeon (if it was you, thank you) so I picked it up. I love how many old mysteries have been re-released as e-books in the last few years.

As the blurb says, a train gets stopped by a blizzard on Christmas Eve and a mismatched group of people decide to leave the safety of the train and attempt to make it to the next station on foot. Of course they get lost, but happily stumble upon a house – that is empty but has fires roaring and tea set out. ““Don’t disappoint me? Don’t tell me you cannot supply the corpse? A bread-knife on a floor, a boiling kettle, tea laid, an unlocked front door—and no corpse! Well, well, I suppose we must be satisfied, so let us be grateful and have tea.”

Our leader and detective is Edward Maltby, 60 years old and a proud member of the Royal Psychical Society. He doesn’t actually do much detecting, but he does a lot of thinking and noticing and picking out the clues. The characters are not terrible well-developed, but most are not cardboard either. They have definite personalities and back stories that let you see how they ended up here.

Farjeon does a good job at building suspense. There’s an interesting touch of the paranormal, not overdone, just a bit to kind of move the story along. Only one character seems to be psychic – and it’s not Maltby. He’s not above fooling people when necessary though.

I love a good country house mystery, even more so when the residents are celebrating Christmas, or trying to. With a couple of dead bodies, an altered will, and a hidden treasure, this was an enjoyable read. There were a couple of parts that were pretty unlikely, but it didn’t bother me. I willing to suspend my disbelief for a good story.

About J. Jefferson Farjeon

Joseph Jefferson Farjeon (4 June 1883 – 6 June 1955) was an English crime and mystery novelist, playwright and screenwriter.
His first published work was in 1924 when Brentano’s produced ‘The Master Criminal’, which is a tale of identity reversal involving two brothers, one a master detective, the other a master criminal. This was the beginning of a career that would encompass over 80 published novels, ending with ‘The Caravan Adventure’ in 1955. He also wrote a number of plays and many short stories.
Many of his novels were in the mystery and detective genre although he was recognized as being one of the first novelists to entwine romance with crime.

Arsène Lupin, The Gentleman Burglar by Maurice Leblanc

Arsène Lupin, The Gentleman Burglar by Maurice Leblanc Arsène Lupin, The Gentleman Burglar by Maurice Leblanc
Series: Arsène Lupin #1
Published by Amazon Digital Services on October 11, 2015 (first published June 1907)
Source: Purchased
Genres: Vintage Mystery
Pages: 191
Format: eBook
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Arsene Lupin, The Gentleman Burglar is a collection of nine stories, written by Maurice Leblanc, who constitute the first adventures of Arsene Lupin. The color cover of the original edition is designed by Henri Goussé.

The first story in the collection, The Arrest of Arsene Lupin, was published in July 1905 in the newspaper Je sais tout. This is the first story implementing Arsène Lupin. It has a real success, Maurice Leblanc is encouraged to write the sequel by his editor. Or, as the author is perplexed on how to continue the adventures of a hero who has been locked up, the publisher ordered to him to escape. The saga of the gentleman thief was born. Several new appeared in Je sais tout, at irregular intervals, until 1907, before being grouped in volume.

4½ stars for the story, 2 stars for the translation

Arsène Lupin is simply a fabulous character. He’s a thief, but suave and brilliant and a “gentleman.” I just wish this translation by Nicolae Sfetcu had been better.

The collection includes the first nine stories:

1)   The Arrest of Arsene Lupin
2)   Arsene Lupin in Prison
3)   The Escape of Arsene Lupin
4)   The Mysterious Traveller
5)   The Queen’s Necklace
6)   The Seven of Hearts
7)   Madame Imbert’s Safe
8)   The Black Pearl
9)   Sherlock Holmes Arrives Too Late

Lupin gets arrested, organizes a heist from jail, and escapes from jail. He solves a couple of mysteries, in order to steal the items himself of course and even outwits Holmes. I truly enjoyed the stories. They’re fun and light.

This particular translation is not well done though. Aside from not being particularly smooth, the pronouns seem to get mixed up a lot – him and her almost become interchangeable, which is more than a little annoying. I could follow the story, and see what it should have been, but the next Lupin story I read will definitely be from a different translator.

Do read Leblanc’s stories. Do not read this version.


About Maurice Leblanc

Maurice Marie Émile Leblanc (11 November 1864 – 6 November 1941) was a French novelist and writer of short stories, known primarily as the creator of the fictional gentleman thief and detective Arsène Lupin, often described as a French counterpart to Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes.

The Dying Alderman by Henry Wade

The Dying Alderman by Henry Wade The Dying Alderman by Henry Wade
Published by Orion on July 28, 2016 (first published 1930)
Source: Purchased
Genres: Vintage Mystery
Pages: 240
Format: eBook
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At a meeting of Quenborough Borough Council, the Mayor, Sir John Assington, is accused by Alderman Trant of wasting money and turning a blind eye to speculators on the make.

Then Trant is stabbed with his own knife, and while dying, manages to scratch the initials 'MA' on a piece of paper.

Local Chief Constable Race is on the case. He is new to the force, so Superintendent Vorley comes to his aid. With the help of Scotland Yard, in the shape of Inspector Lott, they each bring a different approach to the investigation.

For the truth is rarely straightforward . . .

The Dying Alderman is the first mystery I’ve read by Henry Wade; he’s not a writer I’d heard of before, but it looks like most of his are out for Kindle now, so I’ll probably pick up more.

The Dying Alderman is a well-plotted mystery with characters who are nuanced and believable. There are three cops working the case, Race who is new to the job, Vorley who is steeped in local gossip and prejudices, and Lott, the outsider who can be a bit heavy-handed in his questioning of suspects. Each of the men brings something to the plate. My favorite was Race, but Lott’s goading of Vorley is rather amusing at times. Lott and Vorley are focussed on two different suspects and each seems reasonable. Wade does a good job with the police procedural aspect, but doesn’t leave us with the impression that police are perfect, instead we know some may have their own agendas that don’t necessarily fit with finding the truth. The clues are well done and I admit that I didn’t know who the killer was until it was revealed.

This was written a decade or so after WW1 and the war’s impact is still seen clearly in the lives of the characters.  Sir John Assington, the only trustworthy man on council, is the last of his family. His son died on the Western Front. Race was appointed to his job in part due to his service in the war and knows, and doesn’t want to think ill of,  another character because they were in the were in the same regiment. The War is not glossed over, but not lingered on either. I think that’s something that makes Wade a little different. His books are not purely escapism. He doesn’t pass over things that were/are happening in society – corrupt public officials, the war, unethical cops, but he doesn’t dwell on them either; they’re just part of life.

Overall, it’s a smart mystery that stands the test of time.

About Henry Wade

Henry Wade (10 September 1887 – 30 May 1969) was the pen name of Major Sir Henry Lancelot Aubrey-Fletcher, CVO DSO, 6th Baronet and Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire (1954 to 1961). Aubrey-Fletcher was the only son and second child of Sir Lancelot Aubrey-Fletcher, 5th Baronet, and Emily Harriet Wade. He was educated at Eton College and New College, Oxford, and fought in both the First World War and Second World War with the Grenadier Guards, and in 1917 was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and French Croix de guerre. He married Mary Augusta Chilton in 1911 and they had five children. He was a member of Buckinghamshire County Council and was appointed High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire in 1925. He played Minor counties cricket between 1921 and 1928 for Buckinghamshire. A noted mystery writer, his stories were published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and he was a founding member of the Detection Club.

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