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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