Some people might think that the worst thing that could happen to them is sharing an overnight train with a man who snores. Not Richard Temperley, although that is his first thought. But after meeting up with the man again in a hotel near Euston station, he is shocked to realise the reason why he seems to be asleep in an armchair without snoring – the man has been shot. His only concern, however, is for the beautiful girl who he met briefly before the murder, but who fled the scene. The police seem more concerned with the crimson “Z”, made out of metal and left at the scene.
As Richard pursues the girl, convinced not of her guilt but that she is in danger, he finds himself crossing the country and back again with the police in pursuit. But with the mysterious “Z” striking apparently at random, is there any way of bringing him – or her – to justice?
Well, it’s safe to say that Farjeon didn’t stick to a formula. This is about as far from Thirteen Guests as it could be without it being set on the Moon.
First off, let me tell readers that this isn’t a fair-play mystery – it’s not even much of a mystery – but it doesn’t try to be, so it’s not fair to review it as such. It’s a thriller, in the “39 Steps” style. It’s an odd choice to release after Mystery In White, which I gather is a more traditional mystery – review soon, I promise – and I wonder if readers were disappointed by it. Expectations are everything, but this basically boils down to chasing a loony across the country before the death toll gets too high.
But with that warning out of the way, what about the book itself? After all, the publisher is British Library Crime Classics, not British Library Mystery Classics. This one predates the other two books available so far by a few years – it’s from 1932 – so one might not expect the same style of plotting. The writing style is highly enjoyable still with Farjeon determined not to get into a rut – witness the three chapter sequence that abandons our hero and looks instead at a taxi-driver who is ferrying the killer to the next victim. Or the chapter from a policeman’s point of view that has him narrating an interview with Richard and his ally. For me, at least, the writing is enough to gloss over problems with the plot.
And there are a few, most notably one of those characters who if they just took a moment to explain things, then a lot of bother could have been sorted out, and also a killer’s plan which is quite frankly bonkers – Temperley has to rely on some impressive guesswork and luck to even stay on the killer’s track, let alone save the day.
At the end of the day, it’s a fun, if rather strange read. If you like the thriller genre, then it’s definitely Recommended.