Thirteen Guests by J Jefferson Farjeon

thirteen guestsLucky for some…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Twelve guests are invited to the country house of Lord Aveling for the weekend. They’re a mixed group – Lord Aveling has political ambitions so some are people he hopes will back him, there’s an influential newspaper columnist he hopes will give him some good publicity, an artist who’s painting his daughter, an actress for whom he has… ahem… other plans, and a couple of people he doesn’t really know, but has invited along at the request of others in the party. When John Foss trips and sprains his ankle at the railway station, one of the invited guests decides to take him along to the Hall for treatment, and Lord Aveling insists on him staying till he’s better. Superstition says it’s unlucky to be the thirteenth guest, but to John’s relief he’s not the last to arrive. Which, as it turns out, is lucky indeed, since soon the hall is awash with corpses…

This is a fairly typical Golden Age country house mystery, first published in 1936. It gets off to a good start, with John’s accident and his arrival as a stranger to the company providing a good excuse for all the various characters to be introduced to him, and therefore to the reader. The characterisation isn’t terribly in-depth, with some of the characters being ‘types’ rather than individuals – the cricketer who plays with a straight bat, the shifty strangers, the obnoxious journalist, etc. But with such a large cast it would be difficult to fill them all out in a reasonable space and the novel is fairly short, as they tended to be back in those happy far-off times.

The plot is quite complex and there are lots of red herrings running…er…swimming around, so Detective Inspector Kendall has his work cut out for him when he finally arrives. Fortunately, he’s a wily old fox who can see through people’s lies and evasions, and spot clues that others would miss. He forms an unlikely alliance with the obnoxious journalist, who acts as a kind of unofficial investigator on the inside. Eventually all will be revealed – but with an unexpected twist in the tail that adds an extra layer of interest.

J Jefferson Farjeon
J Jefferson Farjeon

The writing is pretty good if somewhat dated in style, which shows through particularly in the dialogue of which there’s a lot. There’s a rather unlikely and not terribly romantic romance going on as a sub-plot, but again this is really a device so that two of the characters can have intimate tête-à-têtes to keep the reader informed of what’s going on. It starts and finishes well, but I found the middle dragged a bit as Kendall carried out interviews with all the various characters. And in the end, the explanation is pretty much presented to us by the characters telling each other what really happened. In retrospect, I do think it was fair-play, but too fiendishly convoluted for my poor little brain to fathom. Overall, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to people who enjoy these old-style mysteries. But, in truth, the more I read of the ‘forgotten classics’, the more I realise how good the ones are that haven’t been forgotten. Enjoyable, but not to be compared to the likes of Christie, Marsh or Sayers.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.

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73 thoughts on “Thirteen Guests by J Jefferson Farjeon

  1. Ah, yes, the country-house mystery! Nothing quite like it, FictionFan, even if this particular one isn’t a top-of-the-heap example. You make an interesting point, too, about the choices authors have to make between breadth and depth when it comes to characters. I wonder if that was because the focus was so often on plot, and on matching wits with the reader, rather than on fleshed-out characters during those years. Either way, I’m glad you thought this was a decent read.


    • Yes, this one was much more about the plot than the characters – and fiendishly difficult it was too! Lots of hidden motives and who was where when stuff! It took me a while after all was revealed to decide whether we’d been given all the info we’d need to solve it, but I think we had. I didn’t even get close though… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, Ngaio Marsh! I discovered her a few years ago. At one time my local library had several, but, most sadly, they seem to have cleared out all the well-written golden age in favour of the modern job lot of dismembered beautiful women and children written by wannabes with little sense of how to craft plot, characters or style. (you can see my lip curling outrageously, can’t you, in distaste) I like the sound of this one, even if it isn’t up to Ngaio (who is possibly my favourite golden age)

    James is still living, I see!

    And i like your humorous touches in your review, which seem suitable golden age, with no modern bashing about the head with ‘ I am being funny now’

    Apropos of absolutely nothing, an interesting snippet on Today, this morning, which echoed something in another Tim Parks book on The Novel – the negative effects of globalisation on both literature and film. They were talking about Back To The Future, and the wit of the concept and dialogue. The person interviewed mentioned Zameckis could never have made that film today – America was really making movies for itself (or other English speaking countries) With America (and everyone else) increasingly looking for ‘global’ nuance in dialogue (or book writing) goes out of the window in favour of very broad brush strokes, action, and little nuance in dialogue to allow for ease of translation. Parks makes the same point, tellingly, re literature. So……..perhaps light touch humour and linguistic nuance vanishes with everyone chasing the buck of quantity world wide, hence stuff which is purely plot driven, with little description, complexity, conflicting meaning etc


    • I read my way through the Ngaio Marshes as a teenager – the influence of BigSister again! I liked her back then, but haven’t revisited much recently since I suspect they might feel quite dated now – my tolerance for that kind of snobbery has gone down over the years. Christie of course was my fave – I never really took to Sayers. And James was a big favourite too for many years – of course, she was a bit later, so I was reading hers as they were published in the later years…

      That’s interesting – I’d need to give it some thought before I wholeheartedly agreed though. I think Nordic crime is instantly recognisable as such, and I must say I actively avoid American crime on the whole because of their endless fascination with the gun as the solution to every mystery. That’s why I’m more likely to go for legal mysteries from the US rather than police procedural or PI novels. And I must say I don’t even watch things like The Wire because I find it too annoying trying to understand the heavy dialects and accents. And as far as Japanese crime and/or fiction goes, I don’t think they globalise at all really – I never feel I really understand them fully because they’re so based in a culture I don’t understand. Hmm – I shall be mulling over that now… intriguing!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have always enjoyed this book and the dated style suits my preferences quite nicely. I agree that it doesn’t stand up to the likes of Christie (but then, who does!) but I think this is quite a charming little tale nonetheless. Your review has got me itching to get home and read it again!


  4. I haven’t read this one, but it sounds interesting, despite being dated. I sympathize with the author, you know — ’tis hard to write compelling middles!!


    • It is – especially in crime novels when an awful lot of the middle has to be given over to question and answer interviews. I must say in Farjeon’s defence I felt the same way about Murder on the Orient Express – the bigger the cast of characters, the harder it is to keep that middle bit interesting…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The tendency for the prose to date can be a bit of a drawback when it comes to reading these Golden Age mysteries in the present day. I’ve yet to take the plunge with these British Library Crime Classics despite being tempted every time I see them on display. If you were to pick one from the selection you’ve read so far, which one would you recommend?


  6. It sounds like a very interesting book. Was it a bit reminiscent of AC’s And Then There Were None? See, I’d be that chap that trips and sprains his ankle. But then again, he was in for an adventure.

    And the author has a great last name.


    • A bit – but they weren’t completely cut-off from the outside world and there weren’t quite so many corpses! And AC’s was much better… I should warn you that the chap who tripped was also the one who fell in love and spent a lot of time doing lovey-dovey talk. Better that you should be the artist, I think… he was much more manly!

      He has! And he looks nice too… I used to type on one of those back in a past life, you know, you know… badly!


      • Hmm…but I bet the chap was just pretending to love for other reasons. Maybe he wanted to steal diamonds or something. We can never know. But still, sounds like I should be the artist.

        *laughs* Are they hard to type on?


            • Of course I do! He’s unforgettable! I miss him…

              They do! Especially if they’re tiny little undersized things like mine. I often wonder just what exactly they’re supposed to be for!


            • Oh, you’ve been promising to bring them back for centuries! I’ll believe it when I see it, sir!

              They are – titchy. I’m sure that’s the only reason I’m not a brilliant guitarist… *tries to look sincere*


            • Okay, okay! My brain is working overtime on it, every other day. I’m going to do something…soon.

              Titchy! *laughing* What a word. Mine aren’t the biggest either. But they’re used to stretching, I suppose.


  7. Dear me. I missed so much yesterday. Dinosaurs and who knows what else. Is reading to dinosaurs an alter ego, or were you teaching them something? I tend to like the classics. I don’t know if it is because they are comfortable companions, or because I’m getting old.


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