As its name suggests Mystery in White (A Christmas Crime Story) by J. Jefferson Farjeon is in many ways the perfect Christmas gift for a crime fiction fan, particularly one who is a traditionalist at heart. Written during the 1930s in the ‘golden age’ of crime writing, it has all of things you might expect – a comfortable but closed setting, an intriguing set of suspects and of course a murder. On top of that it is set during a white Christmas that is much better experienced on the page in all its crisp white glory rather than in the sludgy and inconvenient reality.
It’s Christmas Eve and a train is halted by heavy snowfall. Several of its passengers take shelter in a deserted country house. A fire has been lit and a table laid for tea but no one is at home. Then in their midst a murderer strikes.
The characters are at first glance no more than a set of stereotypes – a platinum blonde chorus girl, an elderly bore, a pale young office clerk, two ‘decent types’ in siblings David and Lydia, a mysterious old man who is a member of the Royal Psychical Society and an unpleasant cockney. Farjeon skilfully draws us in, not only with their predicament and the cosy/creepy setting but also by giving enough depth to the characters to make us care about them – something that not all ‘golden age’ writers manage. There are lots of narrative twists and turns and enough tension and surprises to keep the reader well and truly gripped – a missing knife, a hint of a ghostly presence, the arrival of mysterious strangers and some ill advised and dangerous journeys into the snow covered countryside.
All of this as well as a satisfying and creative ending makes for an ideal escape if and when the festivities get too much. There’s only one thing to add and it’s a warning. Be careful who you give Mystery in White to. It was a gift from my lovely husband last year and once I’d started it I had to be virtually prised out of my armchair to cook the Christmas dinner. Happy reading!
Diana Bretherick is an ex-criminal barrister and now a lecturer in criminology and criminal law at Portsmouth University. She won the GOOD HOUSEKEEPING new novel competition in 2012 for City of Devils. Her latest novel, The Devil’s Daughters is out now. Visit Diana’s website or follow her on Twitter for more information.