Mystery in White - J. Jefferson Farjeon

THE first thing David did on emerging from the front door was to pitch head first into a mound of snow. For a moment or two he nearly suffocated, while countless soft, icy pellets invaded his back as though he were being bombarded by silent salvos from heaven. Then he scrambled out, and strained ears choked with snow for a repetition of the shout. Already he had lost his sense of direction, for all he could see was a bewildering succession of snowflake close-ups, almost blinding vision. During the forty-five minutes he had been in the house the weather had travelled from bad to worse. Snow rushed at him unbelievably from nowhere caking him with white. He would have retreated promptly saving for the knowledge that somewhere in this whirling maelstrom was a man in a worse plight; but how to find the man, if his despairing cry was not repeated, seemed a stark impossibility.

Alright, this was a fun book. Despite the excellent, yet misleading, cover, this story does not take place on a train but is essentially a country house mystery.

Our protagonists are a group of strangers who share a compartment on a train and get stuck in a snowstorm just days before Christmas. As they all dislike being stranded, they set out to try and walk to the next station – which may or may not have a connections that are still running.

But… they never get there. The weather conditions worsen and they need to turn in to a nearby house for shelter. They enter looking for its occupants, but no one is there even though the fires are laid on, the tea set is laid out, and the kettle is boiling.

What a great start to a Christmas mystery!

The characters were really cute, too. We have a couple of young women, one of the women’s brother, a young clerk suffering from some sort of anxiety disorder, a guy who is a known psychic, and an older chap who is described as “the old bore”. We also get to meet a man suffering from shell shock.

I loved the characters. You’d think they were all straight out of the catalogue of British country house mysteries, but each one had a little bit more to them – I especially liked that the author included characters who were going through some mental distress. It is still not that often that I have come across depictions of characters suffering from shell shock in the original 1920s/30s mysteries. They are not really part of Christie’s setup and it took me to discover Sayers and Tey to find a representation.

The mystery itself is convoluted and the solution is contrived – the psychic gets involved a lot, and at one point I flashbacks to The Haunting of Hill House – but there is also something gripping about the part of the mystery, which really takes quite a gritty turn.

Almost as good as Death of an Airman, and the book made me laugh a lot.

But first things first. Is anybody getting hungry? Come along, staff. Step on it. We mustn’t keep the family waiting for dinner. I may not be honest and sober, but I am punctual!” Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Smith glanced at each other, then followed the girl obediently into the kitchen.

3.5* (out of 5*)

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