The Z Murders – J. Jefferson Farjeon British Library Crime Classics

Another Book, another British Library crime classic? I read this one a couple of weeks ago and have only just got round to writing about it.  I’m still baffled at the system for releasing these reprints; I bought Murder of a Lady in October in Lincoln, even though it is not due to be released until January….Ho hum.

Anyway, back to this book. I wrote about The Thirteen Guests recently, the book also by this author set in the 1930s.  Whereas that book tended towards the country house mystery, this book starts with a journey, and by the end much of the country has been traversed. This book is probably the better for it; there is a genuine murder mystery here, with car and train journeys which make everyone a potential danger. The hero, Richard Temperley, has good reason to be suspicious, as his early morning arrival at Euston station is transformed by a seemingly inexplicable murder.  The police become friends and foes alternatively, as a woman is in the case. As you may expect from a book written in 1932, the lady  in question is not given the most proactive role, but her journeys are literally drive the action. There is one of the most sinister characters I have ever read about in a crime classic, as well as some really interesting taxi drivers.

I really enjoyed this book. Both the main characters and later subsidiary drivers come over as people with some ‘backstory’, not just functionaries to help the plot along. The atmosphere (with appropriate fog) is really tense as the pursued become the pursuers and the police provide a vital role in chasing and finding out at the same time as the reader what is (probably, possibly) going on and why. The letter Z is a returning theme as a linking factor in seemingly unrelated crimes and pulls much of the action together. This is a very visual read, and I can quite see it as a black and white film with old cars and a daring hero. I would also point out that for anyone who cannot visualise a map of Britain  may well need to consult a map by the end of the book, as it describes the English countryside and some of the plot in some geographical detail. I enjoyed its pace and tension. The body count is a bit high, and there is an impressive amount of fear and confusion. Overall, definitely one of the fastest moving novels in this series, though not the most humorous by any stretch of the imagination.

I am really enjoying this series of crime classics, and am more or less keeping up with each book released. The three collections of short mystery stories, including the new Silent Nights, Christmas Mysteries take a lot more reading. Overall, I think I prefer the full novels, but I notice many more anthologies of short stories are being released, including the desirable Penguin British Short stories which looks very interesting, if only for its historical volume. Something to look forward to if I can only save my pennies….?!?

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