Saturday, February 10, 2018

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon

J. Jefferson Farjeon's Seven Dead is another British Library Crime Classic. The book was originally
published in 1939, and it's now reprinted. It's published in the United States by Poisoned Pen Press, and both the British and American editions have an introduction by Martin Edwards. Edwards' introductions to these classic British mysteries is often as interesting as the stories themselves. He delves into the background of the story and presents a biographical sketch of the author. Seven Dead is an appealing, interesting mystery right up until the end. I found the ending to be unconventional, and just odd.

Ted Lyte is an amateur thief who makes the mistake of trying to rise about his earlier crimes and break into a house. It turns out to be a big mistake. He breaks into a locked room in Haven House where he finds the bodies of seven people, six men and a woman. There's also a note that says, "With apologies from the Suicide Club." The panicked petty thief is fleeing when he's accosted by journalist and yachstman Thomas Hazeldean. Hazeldean keeps him there until Detective Inspector Kendall can talk with him. When they enter the house, Thomas becomes fascinated by the picture of Dora Fenner, a member of the family who owns the house.

While Kendall investigates on the British end, Hazeldean heads to Boulogne, France, following Dora Fenner's trail. It's in France that the story goes astray. Until then, it seems to be a locked room mystery. Who or what killed the seven people in that locked room? Once the story goes to France, it becomes a melodramatic story of past history.

Seven Dead is a leisurely paced mystery with an elaborate storyline. While the discovery at Haven House is disturbing, that is really just a puzzle to be solved. But, the twisted ending is bothersome. 

I'm a fan of these British crime classics. It's interesting to read early practitioners and watch their development of the mystery. But, as I said, I just found the ending of Seven Dead to be strange. The beginning of the book is much better than the weird conclusion.

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon. Poisoned Pen Press, 2018. ISBN 9781464209086 (paperback), 240p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.


Rosemary said...

Lesa, I recently read another one of these British Crime Classics - 'Death on the Cherwell' by Mavis Oriel.

I quite enjoyed it, but there really wasn't much of a mystery - and the unravelling of such mystery as there was involved what sometimes felt like endless discussions of very precise timings - did X row under the bridge at 10.22 or 11.03? That sort of thing.

I enjoyed it for the period setting - the girls' college seemed more like a boarding school. There are very few all girls' colleges left at Oxbridge now, but the surviving ones are nothing like this!

Maybe people were satisfied with less mysterious mysteries in those days!


Lesa said...

Rosemary, I really enjoyed the first part of this mystery, but once they headed off to France, and off to chase the villain, it became strange. However, as you mentioned, people's expectations may have been different then. Maybe they were looking for the adventure in the second part of the book.

I'm so glad you mentioned that in your review of Death on the Cherwell. Thank you!