Thursday, December 21, 2017

“Seven Dead” by J. Jefferson Farjeon

A petty thief in rural England is about to graduate to housebreaking. He spots a rather large, isolated house that appears to be empty, and finds an unlocked window near the kitchen. He debates on whether he should start upstairs or on the main floor, and decides on the latter. He pockets silverware in the dining room, and then notices a closed door with a key in it. He turns the key, opens the door, and within seconds is running from the house as fast as he can, dropping spoons along the way.

He walked in on seven bodies, six men and a woman.

In his flight, he literally runs into a yachtsman, Thomas Hazeldean, who collars him and brings him to the police. Detective Inspector Kendall takes charge of the case, which becomes more and more bizarre with each discovered clue. A cricket ball placed atop a vase. A note found under one body, offering an apology from the “suicide club.” A bullet hole in a painting of a young girl in the dining room. And the most puzzling clue of all: the key on the outside of the door, suggesting that the seven had been locked in.

First published in 1939, Seven Dead by F. Jefferson Farjeon (1883-1955) was published at the peak of the author’s popularity, according to Martin Edwards, the consultant for the British Library Crime Series and who writes the book’s introduction. The book is the fourth Farjeon novel republished by the British Library, and the second one involving DI Kendall (the first was Thirteen Guests). Farjeon wrote more than 60 works in crime and other genres. The son of a prolific 19th century author and the grandson of an American actor, he first tried acting but was soon encouraged to turn to writing. And he was one of the stars of the Golden Age of Mystery and Detective Fiction.

J. Jefferson Farjeon
While Kendall focuses on the case, Hazeldean focuses on the girl in the portrait, who’s the owner’s niece and older than she was in the picture. If one suspects that a romance may be in the offing, one suspects correctly. Both she and her uncle are traced across the channel in Boulogne, and Hazeldean tracks her to a small pension, where nothing except the girl is at it seems.

Both the professional and the amateur detectives help provide the eventual solution. Seven Dead is a fast-paced read filled with police procedure, tracking across all kinds of modes of transportation (train, boat, airplane, and even bicycle) and across the passage of time. It’s another winner from the British Library Crime Classics.


Top photograph of medieval houses in Boulogne, France, by Lode Van de Velde via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

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