The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon (1932)

While traveling on the early train to London Euston Richard Temperley finds his attempts to sleep frustrated by the snoring of a fellow traveler, and to his consternation, the two must share a hotel smoking room before continuing on their journeys. Upon entering the room Temperley passes a young woman rushing out, and is unsettled by a queer sensation he can’t account for, until he realizes his fellow traveler seems to be asleep, but is not snoring, “[t]he elderly man in the arm-chair by the window was dead.” When the police arrive they discover, near the body, a crimson enameled disk in the shape of the letter “Z.” Temperley, who has found the fleeing woman’s handbag, fails to divulge the fact and makes the fateful decision to find her himself.

Thus begins a game of cat and mouse, with Temperley trying to find the girl, while simultaneously dodging the police, and inadvertently, a murderer. 

Farjeon has created a very interesting thriller. He grabs hold of the reader’s attention from the beginning with a mysterious woman who may or may not be in danger, then carries them along with several tense chases through the night. Along the way there are a few more murders, each associated with that cryptic “Z” disk. That the story is compressed into a period of about 36 hours lends to the tension and unease that pervades every scene.

That being said, I do have my issues with it. First, it is not until approximately halfway through that we are introduced to the murderer, a serial killer with a bizarre revenge plot that is incredibly bizarre, and that Farjeon only makes us privy to at the very end. And even in that end, we never do find out exactly who that killer is.

Then there are the actions of our chivalrous hero Richard Temperley, who chases our heroine Sylvia Wynne in an attempt to save her. Save her from what, he doesn’t know, but even with her continued refusal to answer questions he still follows along unconditionally, come what may.

I have to say that this was an odd sort of book, and not one of Farjeon’s finest. But, if you can ignore protagonists who act extremely illogically, as well as a bit of sensationalism, there is a somewhat entertaining story to be found here. 

My Judgment – 3.5/5

Prior Rulings – John @ Pretty Sinister BooksKate @ Cross Examining CrimeThe Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – Vintage Themes 2012 – Cherchez l’Homme: Book 4 of 8 with male detectives 

Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge – September #8: Month-related item on cover (people working, picnic scene, means of travel, etc.) – Train

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