J. Jefferson Farjeon – Thirteen Guests

Author: J. Jefferson Farjeon
Title: Thirteen Guests

On a fine autumn weekend Lord Aveling hosts a hunting party at his country house, Bragley Court. Among the guests are an actress, a journalist, an artist and a mystery novelist. The unlucky thirteenth is John Foss, injured at the local train station and brought to the house to recuperate – but John is nursing a secret of his own.

Soon events take a sinister turn when a painting is mutilated, a dog stabbed, and a man strangled. Death strikes more than one of the house guests, and the police are called. Detective Inspector Kendall’s skills are tested to the utmost as he tries to uncover the hidden past of everyone at Bragley Court.

Unlike Farjeon’s The Z-Murders (or Seven Dead) which were more pulp than golden age mystery this one is as classic as it gets: There’s a house-party on the estate of Lord Aveling (who’s a stuffy old lord) who lives there with his wife (who’s a woman) and daughter (who’s a woman). Among his guests are a cricketer (who…likes cricket), a journalist (who’s annoying), an artist (who’s even more annoying), a blackmailer (who’s a blackmailer), his wife (who’s an annoying woman), a young widow (who’s a plucky woman), a female crime novelist (who’s the comic relief woman), an actress (who’s a woman), a doctor (who’s a doctor) and a dude who’s only there by chance because he had an accident near the estate and this is the countryside and there’s no other doctor nearby (he’s…a person…I guess).

Of course, then strange things start happening and soon bodies begin to drop and an inspector start to get involved and at the end there’s a solution I did enjoy a lot…only I did not enjoy the way there…or perhaps rather the characters that brought me there. Because at best my feelings about them are neutral and at worst I strongly disliked them. The inspector himself also fell in the just-did-not-care-about-him category. Additionally, the book has what Martin Edwards likes to call ‘romance’ and what I call ‘otherwise unattached people of opposite genders talk occasionally and then decide that they are perfect for each other’. So all in all that doesn’t make for a gripping read.

J. Jefferson Farjeon – The Z Murders

Richard Temperley arrives at Euston station early on a fogbound London morning. He takes refuge in a nearby hotel, along with a disagreeable fellow passenger, who had snored his way through the train journey. But within minutes the other man has snored for the last time – he has been shot dead while sleeping in an armchair.

Temperley has a brief encounter with a beautiful young woman, but she flees the scene.

When the police arrive, Detective Inspector James discovers a token at the crime scene: a small piece of enamelled metal. Its colour was crimson, and it was in the shape of the letter Z. Temperley sets off in pursuit of the mysterious woman from the hotel, and finds himself embroiled in a cross-country chase – by train and taxi – on the tail of a sinister serial killer.

I can only suspend my disbelief so far and this book went further. 

Much further.

It’s the story of Richard Temperley who enters the smoking-room of a hotel just when a woman is leaving. He has never met this woman before and they don’t talk. Richard then finds a murdered man in the room and calls the police as any honest citizen would. He also mentions the woman to the police and of course that makes them curious. But Richard decides that the woman can’t have committed the murder because…she’s a woman and also beautiful? And beautiful women can’t commit crimes. Ever. Even when the inspector patiently points out that the police doesn’t necessarily suspect her but is still looking for her because she might have seen something Richard goes basically “I see. You are planning to lock her in the darkest dungeon and throw away the key. YOU MONSTER! And anyway it’s not like I would know where to find her.” and the inspector then shows massive self-restraint by not murdering Richard on the spot.

Then Richard picks up the handbag the mysterious lady lost and that the police conveniently missed, finds her calling card in it and goes to visit her. He meets her there but she is incapable of giving a straightforward answer and really does nothing that makes it seem she is an innocent bystander who knows nothing about the crime. Does Richard care? No. His blood left his brain long ago and is now somewhere else. So when the lady disappears again he decides to look for her himself instead of talk to the police.

To be fair to the book: this isn’t a classic mystery. This is an unashamedly batshit insane pulp thriller with an unashamedly batshit insane finale (which I admit was beautiful). It’s not meant to be realistic, or even vaguely reality-adjacent in the way Christie et al. are. I didn’t expect it to be. I’ve read Farjeon before. Seven Dead features both a shipwreck and a plane-crash. But -well- I can only suspend my disbelief so far and this plot made me overstretch it and I might have injured my eyes from rolling them so much.

Perhaps I could have lived with it if Richard had known the woman before. It still would have been a shallow reason for his actions but “I know this woman and can’t believe she’s a murderer even if she’s acting oddly” is still better than “she’s too pretty to be evil”