Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Running to jump off a train, John Foss suffers a fall and lands into the arms of exquisitely beautiful young widow Nadine Leveridge. Spirited to Bragley Court to recover, Foss finds himself one of now thirteen guests attending a weekend party at the home of Lord and Lady Aveling. While injury precludes his participation in weekend events, it allows Foss to be a witness to all the goings on amongst family, guests, and servants. In addition to Nadine the guests include artist Lester Pratt, on hand to paint a portrait of the Aveling’s daughter Anne; cricketer Harold Taverley, a great friend of Anne’s, and doesn’t particularly like the portrait; gossip columnist Lionel Butling, who finds every event fodder for his column; actress Zena Wilding who is hoping to obtain backing for her play from Lord Aveling; Sir James Earnshaw, a Liberal politician who may change political parties, if the bargain includes Anne; writer of detective fiction Miss Edyth Fermoy-Jones, who believes herself to be a female Edgar Wallace; sausage magnate Mr. Rowe, his wife and daughter, and the shifty Mr. Chater, who seems to be everywhere and hears everything, along with his nervous wife.

It is said that thirteen guests are a bad omen, and that bad luck will befall the thirteenth to enter. 

‘And I make the thirteen,’ remarked John as Taverley rose.”

“I hope that doesn’t worry you.”

“Not superstitious.”

“That’s fortunate, although even if you were, you’d be clear. The bad luck would come, wouldn’t it, to the thirteen guest who passes through the door?”

Disturbing events soon follow. The portrait of Anne is mutilated, a family dog stabbed, and a man is found dead in a nearby quarry. Then, the weekend hunt ends in death not just for the stag, but for the thirteenth guest as well. 

Let’s get right to it. Thirteen Guests has all the makings of a classic country house mystery – blackmail, romance, some very intriguing characters, and of course – murder. Farjeon’s writing style is one that I love. It is descriptive, natural, and unpretentious. He has an ability to create very engaging, if not always likable, characters. Pratt and Butling in particular are very well fleshed out characters, and their interactions were extremely entertaining.

But, still I felt a bit let down. While the solution was an ingenious one, it is not really possible for the reader to it work it out along with the sleuth. Detective Inspector Kendall’s investigation, which is heavily aided by Lionel (in return for an exclusive for his gossip column), involves mostly interviews with the household, interrupted by his rushing off to see something his constables have found. We therefore don’t really witness much in the way of detecting, and we only learn certain details after the fact (button…I’m sorry, what button?). Also, the much advertised plotline of John Foss, the silent witness to everything, is not really utilized to its full potential. 

Still, I found Thirteen Guests to be entertaining. So, with the caveats above I would recommend it.

My Judgment – 3.5/5

Prior Rulings – crossexaminingcrime, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

4 thoughts on “Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon

  1. I’ve always felt Farjeon was more comfortable in the thriller format. Seven Dead is his best “detective” novel IMO. Mystery White is also a good blend of thriller and detective fiction. Have you tried any of his Ben the Tramp novels?

    1. I’ve previously read Mystery in White…and loved it. I have The Z Murders in my TBR, and keep looking at the Ben the Tramp titles, but haven’t yet picked any up. With a look?

  2. Very true. He treats it with great sensitivity…and the resolution is very effective. And the interaction between characters was also a highlight for me. Even the shortest of scenes between characters, such as the Rowe’s or L & L Aveling, was treated with the same importance and those between Pratt and Butling, or Butling and Kendall. I just think he kept the investigation part too close to the chest.

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