It’s Christmas Eve. A train headed north from London becomes blocked by a massive snowfall that shows no sign of letting up. In a third-class compartment, occupied by a brother and sister, a psychic researcher, a young rather nervous young man on his way to visit a rich aunt, a rather obnoxious man who seems full of hot air and himself, and a show girl, discussion turns to what to do.
Finally, the psychic researcher suddenly bolts from his seat to go look for human habitation nearby. Four of the others follow, leaving the obnoxious man behind. Fighting their way through swirling snow, the group eventually finds a rather large house, its door open, fires burning in the fireplaces, and water boiling for tea.
And no one is in the house. But there is a body buried in the snow outside.
While this may sound like an Agatha Christie story like Murder on the Orient Express or And Then There Were None, the similarities are slight and superficial. Instead, it is Mystery in White: A Christmas Crime Story by J. Jefferson Farjeon. Originally published in 1937, it was republished late in 2014 as part of the British Library Crime Classics series, and became a surprising hit in U.K. bookstores.
Farjeon was the son of Benjamin Farjeon, a popular and prolific novelist in the 19th century who was inspired to write by Charles Dickens accepting one of his stories for publication. The son wrote numerous mystery novels, including on, No. 17, that was made into a movie by Alfred Hitckcock. Farjeon’s sister, Eleanor, was a poet and writer of children’s stories. Writing clearly ran in the family.
|J. Jefferson Farjeon
Mystery in White is rather light holiday fare, even (as it turns out) a murder on the train and the body in the snow. There’s a bit of holiday levity, particularly with the brother and sister characters, David and Lydia Carrington. The psychic researcher turns out to be a fairly decent detective, and he’s instrumental in eventually solving the murders as well as another murder buried 20 years in the past.
The British Library has published some 25 novels in the Crime Classics series, including two additional stories by Farjeon: The Z Murders and Thirteen Guests.
Mystery in White is a rather fun read, particularly if it’s the holidays and it’s snowing outside.
Related: My reviews of other British Library Crime Classics
Photograph by Bobbi Jones via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.