Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon

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Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon

Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Louise Jones
Reviewed by Louise Jones
Summary: A petty thief discovers a locked room containing seven dead bodies; The Suicide Club. But is this suicide or murder? A no-nonsense detective and a lovelorn journalist have the task of finding out.
Buy? yes Borrow? yes
Pages: 288 Date: September 2017
Publisher: British Library Publishing
ISBN: 9780712356886

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Ted Lyte was petty criminal, but not usually the housebreaking type. He lacked the courage. However, needs must, and whilst feeling down on his luck he decided to try his chances at an isolated house with a shuttered window. ...he might find a bit of alright behind those shutters! Wot abart it? Ted does indeed find something interesting behind the shutters, but it definitely isn't what he'd hoped. In a locked room he finds seven dead bodies; six men and a woman. Fleeing the house in horror, he is pursued and caught by a passing yachtsman, Thomas Hazeldean, who also happens to be a journalist. Fascinated by Ted's story (and a possible scoop), Hazeldean decides to investigate this curious case and its assortment of odd clues, including a portrait shot through the heart, an old cricket ball and a mysterious note written by one of the victims.

With such a mysterious case at hand, we are thankful for the stable presence of Detective Inspector Kendall, a sharp, intuitive sort with hawk-like observation skills. Kendal and Hazeldean work together to investigate the old house and pore over the clues, discovering even more oddities at the house. What is the significance of the dead cat on the lawn? If this was a group suicide, why was the door locked on the outside? And why did the lady of the house flee so quickly to Boulogne? Hazeldean decides to tackle that last question personally, as he's seen a portrait of the lady in question and now his heart is involved.

Our curious mystery takes us to France and back again and brings up even more oddities and strange clues: a crashed aeroplane, a missing boat and the collective secrets of the eccentric residents at the Pension de Paula. And that old, water-damaged cricket ball seems to be central to the whole investigation...but how?

I really enjoyed the twisting and turning of the story, which was focused more on the why and how rather than whodunnit. As the mists clear and the explanation becomes evident, it is fascinating to see how all the seemingly-unrelated clues slot together so neatly. Its a cleverly-written little mystery.

The book was written in 1939 so we can expect it to be quite dated compared to our modern sensibilities. Dora is a typical damsel in distress, likely to faint at the slightest whiff of bad news, as well as being so emotionally overwrought that she falls head over heels for the first man who takes an interest in her. Another annoying plot device was the decision of the author to emphasise the accents of the characters. So when in France, we get dialogue like: ..I go to ze door 'e get in my way...zen I bite 'im and we 'ave qu'est-ce que c'est?-le fisticuff!

Seven Dead is a delightful mystery story, perfect for a holiday read. It's a forgotten gem from simpler times, but the narrative is clever, sharp and well-constructed. Thanks to the publishers for my review copy.

If you love a good locked room mystery like this one, why not try Death at the President's Lodging by Michael Innes?

Buy Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon at Amazon.com.


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