Title: Seven Dead
Author: J. Jefferson Farjeon
Ted Lyte, amateur thief, has chosen an isolated house by the coast for his first robbery. But Haven House is no ordinary country home. While hunting for silverware to steal, Ted stumbles upon a locked room containing seven dead bodies. Detective Inspector Kendall takes on the case with the help of passing yachtsman Thomas Hazeldean. The search for the house’s absent owners brings Hazeldean across the Channel to Boulogne, where he finds more than one motive to stay and investigate.
There are plenty of Kendalls in the world, but I remember one who did pretty good work recently at Bragley Court, in the case of the Thirteen Guests. What I liked about him was that he didn’t play the violin, or have a wooden leg, or anything of that sort. He just got on with it.
This book stars with seven dead people. Then it gets more absurd. Then a plane crashes and then things get really weird. And as reader, you have no way of guessing how the weirdness will manifest because there are no clues beforehand.
So no, this isn’t a typical golden age mystery. No country house party where coincidentally everyone has a grudge against one party-member. I actually was reminded more of Edgar Wallace (especially the German movie adaptations). There’s a Russian nesting doll of dark secrets, mysterious characters (including an ominous –gasp– foreign silk merchant), a beautiful damsel in distress (she gets to have slightly more agency than those in the Wallace-movies but not much), lots of fog and – most importantly – nobody takes things too serious. They all joke around a lot. Especially the conversation between the inspector and his sergeant are glorious:
Your trouble isn’t that you fail to mention things, Wade, but that you mention them too late, and then incomplete. I have no doubt that, three years after your death, you will send somebody the information.
You will have to suspend your disbelief a lot, though. Even more than “Of course ten people would just accept an invitation from a complete stranger to spend a weekend at a remote island.” More than once
per chapter I found myself going Oh come on but – much like in Mystery in White (whose plot looks plain and normal compared to Seven Guests) – I didn’t care. The writing is so fast-paced that that I didn’t have the time to worry about pesky things like logic and realism. But at the same time the absurdity is well-contained. There are surprising coincidences, of course, but they all relate to the crime and the reasons for it; no inspector coincidentally stumbles over an important clue because he happens to be at the right place at right time. There is no bad timing that leads to a side-character betraying important information because they just missed the announcement about who the villain is. The main characters are fairly normal characters who sometimes have bad luck and sometimes good luck.
Still, traditionalists might not enjoy this too much. It really is more Edwardian pulp fiction than golden age mystery.
ARC provided by NetGaley