Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon – A British Library Crime Classic

So, a completely different book to review. I’m managing (just about) to keep up with the British Library Crime Classic series; but it’s not easy! Even booksellers I have spoken to are confused as to when the books are actually coming out, and working out which is genuinely new and which is a new jacket on an existing book makes it even more confusing. By the time you add in the Thriller series I am a little bewildered! However, as the series is uniformly good with some real highlights such as  Quick Curtain I will keep going. They also look good on the shelves and are fairly robust… a consideration when I am carrying them around…

Anyway, back to the book. 

I actually read this book  a while ago. It is a competent, interesting country house mystery written to a high standard. When a hapless rail passenger suffers an injury at a country station he is taken up by a glamorous guest at Bragley Court. Nadine turns out to be a woman who inspires helpless devotion in many men, and when John Foss is taken by her to the big house, he too falls under her spell. The title emerges from the realisation by the hosts that John makes thirteen guests at the house party, though as he did not appear last another guest is actually the thirteenth to arrive. I must confess that I long since forgot who that was, as several guests are already present and some are longer term than others. An artist is painting the portrait of the daughter of the house and it is this painting which is damaged. A journalist tries to find out what is really going on, while others go hunting with interesting results.

The problem with this book is the sheer number of characters. Residents, guests, servants and locals  add up to an impressive number of suspects when murder is done, and I would not be surprised if the Detective who turns up gives up in despair. This rather goes against the whole idea of a limited number stuck in a house of which at least one must be the murderer. If it is murder. I was a bit confused…

The characters in the novel, having said all that, are really well worked out. The beautiful but rebellious daughter, the cynical journalist, the artist pondering dead dogs and painting, the ambitious political calculator. I really liked Nadine, who is well aware of her effect on males. John is a useful character, in the house but not really part of the party, which gives him perspective.  The background of a large house and a fox hunt is a natural setting for the ‘action’, and this is a successful 1930s mystery which feels authentic, originally published in 1936. The ending is satisfactory and most if not all the loose ends are tied up. I enjoyed it, and to an extent it is better than The Mystery in White of last Christmas at least in terms of real characters. I would recommend it as a worthy addition to the series.

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