Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon (1939)

Small-time pickpocket Ted Lyte unwisely chose Haven House as his first break-in. After stuffing his pockets with silver he knows he should get out, but his curiosity about what’s behind a closed door gets the better of him. Moments later he is fleeing in terror. He is seen running from the house by yachtsman and journalist Thomas Hazeldean, who chases him right into the arms of Sergeant Wade. But who wouldn’t run away when they have just found the corpses of seven people? And with no idea as to identities or cause of death, what the police then find only deepens the puzzle. A bullet through the heart of a young girl in a portrait, a dead cat outside, and a crumbled piece of paper inscribed “WITH APOLOGIES FROM THE SUICIDE CLUB” on one side and “Particulars at address 59∙16s 4∙6e G” on the other. 

Detective Inspector Kendall, of 13 Guests fame, is back again, operating as a “visiting detective” serving with the local police at the time of the crime. Kendall is definitely no your run-of-the-mill investigator. He is imaginative, willingly looks at things from a different perspective, and use whatever means come to hand to solve his case. That includes people, and here he is willing to use Hazeldean, whom he suspects has fallen for the girl in the portrait, allowing him to do the work of tracing the now grown woman to Boulogne, while he focuses on events in England. 

Farjeon seems to vary his writing style with each book, and here he has crafted a thriller of sorts, which involves both police and amateur investigations. The plot is elaborate but well-done, encompassing multiple locations, a number of supporting characters, with motives reaching into the past. The pacing is brisk, the writing sharp, and the atmosphere filled with tension. The ending that Farjeon has crafted is a story of its own, containing a twist that a very unexpected. Although regarding that ending, I think I’d have to agree with TomCat at Beneath the Stains of Time, who, in his review, proposed that had Farjeon rearranged of some major aspects it may have enhanced the story.

One of the things I enjoy about Farjeon’s writing is that he always manages to inject his own brand of dry humor and understatement. The main protagonists, Kendall and Hazeldean of course bandy words intelligently. But it is Kendall’s attempts to educate poor Sergeant Wade that result in many of the amusing incidents that give Farjeon’s writing a charm, and a sense of light relief when it is needed. 

I’ll admit it, I love Farjeon. Although in addition to Seven Dead, I’ve only read Mystery in White and 13 Guests so far, I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of his books I’ve read. But for me, this is a standout. 

My Judgment – 4.25/5

Prior Rulings – Kate @ Cross Examining Crime, The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Story, Aidan @ Mysteries Ahoy, John Norris @ Pretty Sinister Books, TomCat @ Beneath the Stains of Time

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – Vintage Mystery Challenge 2013 – Scattergories – # 2 Murder by the Numbers: a book with a number, quantity in the title. 

Murder Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge – Crime scene: Drawing or Living Room, Clues and Clichés: Dying message

Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge – March #6: Original publication month

4 thoughts on “Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon (1939)

  1. Yes this is one of my favourites from him too. I find Farjeon is writing at his best when he can blend thriller and detective fiction elements. He doesn’t seem as comfortable with pure detective stories such as 13 Guests.

    1. 13 Guests was a bit awkward. But the imaginative nature of his writing is definitely his strength. My next Farjeon will be the “Ben” that was a part of my Christmas subscription box (thank you again!). Really looking forward to it.

      1. Looking forward to your thoughts on Ben as he is definitely an unusual GAD sleuth, almost unique you could say and the stories he’s in don’t tend to get commented on much online. So, a second opinion would be a great!

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