A (very special) Christmas Crime Story

Three Days Until Christmas

21413570Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Get yourself a cup of tea, this is a long story.  Back in my college days, I spent several consecutive semesters living and working in the highlands of Scotland (that’s a whole other story).  At a local church rummage sale, I came across a beat up old paperback — I think it cost me 10P.  This snowy Christmas-time mystery got me through several icy evenings in my digs on the top floor of a frigid stone landowner’s manor, which lacked any sort of central heating.  I cuddled under my eiderdown with a hot water bottle (and yes it was a real eiderdown) and read several evenings away.  I was due to go home soon, homesick and looking forward to celebrating the holidays with my loved ones.

I lugged that poor paperback back to the states, and would re-read it with my other Christmas books until it had to be rubber banded together to prevent the pages from falling out.  During one of my moves, the rubber band broke, random pages went missing and I lost the back cover.  Then several years ago in a fit of “this is ridiculous” I tossed it in the recycling bin – the poor thing wasn’t even fit for my donation box.  I sometimes remembered  this 1930’s classic crime story that kept me mesmerized when I could barely feel my fingers while reading.

So what to my wondering eye should appear but the new British Library Crime Classics reprint series and there it was – my book!  Mystery in White – A Christmas Crime Story – all gussied up and sporting a fabulous new cover.  I was on Amazon and hitting checkout before I could even take a breath.   Originally published in 1937, Mystery in White apparently went out of print and is now republished as part of this new series. (Check out the series for the retro covers alone.) The author is not as well known as many others of the Golden Age yet he was popular in his day.  From the book cover:

On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several of the passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.
Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.

I’m only halfway through my new edition, I keep stopping to marvel at its new incarnation, but I remember this is a surprisingly unusual crime story.  While the language is typical of the 1930’s Golden Age and despite its classic situation (strangers-stranded-in-a-blizzard) Mr. Farjeon gives us mysticism, unexpected plot twists, a hapless police inspector who arrives too late to solve the crimes, a dose of romance and chuckle-worthy Noel Coward humor.   Some of the situations strain credibility – how do they see the stranded car at night without flashlights?   and why does no one seem wet or cold after thrashing about outside in the blizzard?  But you’ll soon forget those little reality fails because this is a clever mystery with a snowy Christmas setting that’s sure to keep you warm and happy.

I found an image of the original hardback edition.  My paperback had the same cover.  white

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