I’ve had Mystery In White on my shelf for almost two years now. I bought and began reading it a few days before Christmas back in 2015 and just didn’t get round to finishing it, so after having a browse of some of the books I hadn’t yet read, I thought i’d give this story another go.
Mystery in White was first published in 1937 during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction and to my surprise, despite having written over 80 books, author J. Jefferson Farjeon is today, pretty much unknown. Nonetheless, the synopsis caught my attention and similar to other stories of this genre, I became interested in finding out ‘Whodunit’.
The plot is fairly straightforward: we’re introduced to a group of several passengers travelling by train during a heavy snow storm, their journey, as a result of the heavy snow comes to a halt and they eventually find themselves seeking refuge in a deserted country house – the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea but nobody is home. Things take an even stranger turn when secrets, lies and murder get thrown into the mix.
This novel covers most of the conventional styles and clichés of the genre, however Farjeon writes in a way that makes you question the motivations of each and every character, even the ‘detective’ of the story elicits an air of ambivalence which is clever because it made me focus more on the characters movements than I did on noticing clues. Some of the crime-solving involves a Sherlockian style debrief, which I, in regards to preference and enjoyment, remain unsure of; particularly as it, in some ways takes away from the reader feeling like they’ve come close to solving the crime.
Farjeon’s writing style was a bit jarring for me at times – it reminded me of James Joyce’s writing (shudders) – whereby you really have to pay attention to the text, particularly the dialogue, he has a tendency to switch from character to character without using pronouns to differentiate between each character; he relies on his characters being distinct enough for the reader to know when a character is speaking or not. And though this isn’t an uncommon way to write dialogue, for a novel which already asks for you to think about the ‘whodunit‘, where and what each of the seven plus characters are doing and how their stories all interconnect, trying to figure who is saying what and when, does become somewhat of a pain. There are also a number of filler chapters throughout this book, which again, adds more to your impression of the characters but does little in furthering the plot in an intriguing way. Whether the payoff is satisfying is debatable – for me, the build up, the suspense and the unexpected revelations make up for what the story lacks.
Overall, is Mystery in White memorable? No. Would I buy another of Farjeon’s detective novels? Yes!
If you’ve read the book, let me know what you thought about the ending in particular!