Tag Archives: J. Jefferson Farjeon

A Weekend in Ilkley (and Ilkley Book Festival!) 

I have spent my first weekend back in the UK away from home in the Yorkshire Dales/Moors and in the wonderful village (and mainly the pub) of Ben Rhydding next to Ilkley. What on earth was I doing there? Well apart from eating, drinking and chatting about books in the pub I was there  as part of the programme for Ilkley Literature Festival, which has just started and if you’re nearby you should really check out.

I was kindly invited by New Writing North to take part in a talk on writing and reading in the digital age and what social media, blogs and vlogs etc are doing for the industry, for readers and for writers. Chaired by (the lovely) Claire Malcolm, who is New Writing North’s CEO, I was on a panel with author and vlogger Jen Campbell and Unbound’s editor-at- large Rachael Kerr. It was a joy to do events with Claire and Rachael again and also to finally meet Jen! The audience were also brilliant. Annoyingly I forgot to take a picture of any of us together or the audience. I am a fool. 

I really love it when you get to do an event with an audience that is as engaged as last nights was. Some of the questions (which I will be answering in full soon here) really, really made me think. Never before has some asked me how responsible I feel about reviewing, or if they have I’ve never been made to think about it as much as I have since. Nor have I ever been asked what I feel my role is, if any, between author and reader. I didn’t think I had one, the audience weren’t so sure. Much to think on and come back to.

Before the event, after having checked in at the hotel which is a pub, I did manage to go around Ilkley. By which I actually mean I went to the wonderful Grove Bookshop… 

And parted with some cash as I somehow, because of the wonderful layout and selection of books, came away with not one but four books, it’s a sickness…

One I had actually asked if they had in (I’m Jack by Mark Blacklock) and they didn’t but managed to get in with a day’s notice. Now that is a bookshop to be proud of – and dream of having locally. Speaking of locals, I must mention the place I spent most of my time, The Wheatley Arms. No, I haven’t become a lush this was our hotel and it was, erm, lush. Look at my room…

I had a balcony all of my own. Now look at the Whitby crab and chips I had for my tea… 

I spent several hours in the restaurant and bar last night with Rachael, Claire and her husband putting the publishing and book world to rights. Before returning again for breakfast this morning and doing the same with Rachael and Jen before we all had to catch our trains. Well after a small lie in with a nice cuppa Yorkshire Tea (my fav) and one of the books I had bought in the worlds most comfortable bed.  

What a lovely weekend. Next weekend I am off to Durham Book Festival, more on that on Tuesday, but for now I will leave you with a link again to Ilkley Literature Festival, and these questions… What have you all been upto this weekend and what are you reading?

Oh and UPDATE the event I took part in has been reviewed. Me being reviewed seems most odd, thankfully it was a good one, phew. 

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Mystery in White; A Christmas Crime Story – J. Jefferson Farjeon

Well I think I might have just discovered the perfect Christmas read if ever there was one. Mystery in White was first published back in the 1930’s in that golden age of crime, yet for some reason went out of print until The British Library republished it as part of their Crime Classics series, along with many other forgotten novels, this year. Believe it or not in the lead up to Chrimbles it became one of the biggest selling paperbacks, having read it I can see why and I wish I had read it sooner (or could travel back in time in a time bus) to make sure you all had it in all your stockings and those of the people you love most.

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British Library Crime Classics, 1937 (2014 edition), paperback, fiction, 256 pages, bought by myself by myself

On Christmas Eve, along the track between London and Manchester, a train becomes stranded in the snow. Those onboard must decide if they can stick it out in their carriages or if it might be best to seek shelter somewhere else. In one carriage a group of strangers, bar brother and sister David and Lydia, all decide that they will try and head to the nearest station of Hemmersby some miles away. Yet as the snow starts to fall harder they realise they are lost, until they (literally) stumble upon a country house. A country house where the door is unlocked, the larder is full, the kettle is over boiling and there is absolutely no one at home. Shelter overrules suspicion or concern, that is until the fires are lit and the passengers are warm and then the feeling that there is something very wrong with the situation starts to arise.

“Funny!” said the owner of the head. “Tea all dressed up and nowhere to go! I say, David, what do you make of it?”
David turned from the couch.
“There’s still upstairs,” he replied. “I’ll tackle that, if you’ll stand by here.”
“Wait a moment!” exclaimed Lydia.
“Why?”
“I don’t know. Yes, I do. What I meant was be careful.”
“That doesn’t explain anything.”
“Nothing explains anything! If it were a fine day it might be quite natural to run out of a house for a few moments while a kettle’s boiling, but in this weather – can you explain that? Where have they gone? Not to post a letter or cut a lettuce! Why don’t they come back? I didn’t tell you, the kettle wasn’t boiling in a nice quiet respectable manner, it was boiling over. Oh, and there was a bread-knife on the floor.”

When I was ranting about discussing The Floating Admiral (read it you might have a giggle) with you all the other day I mentioned my love of the golden age of crime novels. Mystery in White reminded me just why that is the case, before promptly making me quite cross that duds like the aforementioned Detection Club’s offering have been  in print almost continually where as gems like this haven’t. Sorry, I need to let it go, but it is quite cross making.

Mystery in White has everything you need in a brilliant crime novel. It has a situation we can all imagine ourselves in, stranded in snow (as I very nearly was yesterday on the motorway of all places), it has a group of strangers who know nothing about each other and might have all kinds of secrets, it has a creepy old mansion house as its setting, it has one or potentially two crazy murderers about and it is thrilling with a slight sense of horror and the supernatural about it hiding in the corners of every room or behind every tree. Most importantly of course there are no mobile phones and so there will be no help, well not until the snow thaws and melts and who knows if these unlucky souls will last the night.

The cast of characters too is almost perfect for its era. David is clearly the hero, though he hasn’t quite got the range in terms of brains. Lydia is his plucky sister who will not be treated as just a mere girl. Jessie is the typical damsel in distress, spraining her ankle and fainting around chapter three – though note, she may be a chorus girl but she might have the second sight. Mr Hopkins is initially referred to only as ‘the bore’ yet once in the warmth a slyer seedier side is revealed. Mr Thomson, with no P, is the flaky man who blunders rather. Mr Smith, the dodgy bloke from East London with the cockney accent. And then there is Mr Edward Maltby, of the Royal Psychical Society, who very early on asserts himself as the lead and detective yet does he know too much?

All this would be a complete cliché with a cast of utter caricatures if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so brilliantly written and superbly plotted. If all of his books are like this I have no idea why J. Jefferson Farjeon is not much better known with all of his books in print. As you go on reading the Mystery in White not only will you be completely bamboozled as the plot takes on some brilliant twists and turns (which I will not spoil, I couldn’t see any of it coming) and as the element of horror and suspicion starts to build the atmosphere is tense and palpable, it is honestly marvellous.

I think a Mystery in White could be one of my crime novels of the year. I was genuinely hooked by the plot, reading the book in two or three sittings; I enjoyed the cast of characters immensely. Most importantly I couldn’t see, or second guess, the ending. It also has that wonderful sense of nostalgia with it that only the novels from the golden age can produce. Here’s hoping that The British Library republishes all (over sixty, wow) of Farjeon’s books, if they do I will be one of the first in the queue to get my mitts on them.

I am tempted to advise you, if you have yet to read the book, to grab a copy and cancel all your plans for Wednesday evening. Just curl up with this instead and you will have one of the most enjoyable New Years Eve’s you could hope for. Who else has read Mystery in White and what did you make of it? Were you lucky enough to get it for Christmas? Have any of you read any of the other crime classics that The British Library is publishing? Naturally I want to read all of them now, though they will have quite something to live up to.

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Books That I’ve Bought of Late; The London Edition

I spent most of last week down in London having a lovely time catching up with lots of friends and getting very nervous before getting rather tipsy at the Green Carnation Prize winner event. This all naturally included rather a lot of falling to bookshops and buying quite a lot of books, which I thought I would share with you all as we all like a bit of book porn don’t we?

First up were four books that I have been meaning to get my hands on for ages and ages after lots and lots of people were talking about them around Halloween…

Galley Ghosts

These four gorgeous mini paperbacks are ghostly short stories by E. L Barker, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edith Wharton and P.G. Wodehouse. Don’t they look great as a little collection? As usual I am rather slow to the party and indeed have been meaning to buy them via Galley Beggar Press’ website online, however they were on prominent display at the gorgeous new Foyles store (they haven’t paid me to say that you wait till I share it with you on Thursday) and so they were whipped off the shelves and run to the tills.

Next up was a find when I fell into Hatchard’s which is one of my favourite bookshops because of its oldy-worldy-ness. You feel like you have fallen back in time in some way, which was apt as I was after a classic crime novel by members of The Detection Club…

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Gavin has chosen The Floating Admiral (yes a book on a bloody boat) as his classic choice on the next episode of Hear Read This. I don’t know masses about The Detection Club, just that they were a select group of crime novels, including Agatha Christie, who would wrote a chapter of a book each – one of which was this one. I am really looking forward to this one as it is from the golden age of crime, which links in with the next two random purchases…

British library editions

The British Library have started publishing books, these are not any old books (though they are old books) but recovered crime classics that have gone out of print. My eye was caught by J. Jefferson Farjeon’s (who wrote more than sixty books, who knew?) Mystery in White, in part as it was in prime position in Waterstones Islington, as it had the subtitle A Christmas Crime Story and regular visitors to this blog will know I like a Christmas story over, erm, Christmas. This seemed perfect, a broken down train in the snow and a deserted country house, what more could you want. As I looked around Murder Undergound by Mavis Doriel Hay which couldn’t have been a better present to myself from London could it?

Just as I was leaving the store I then spotted a book that I had to buy because of the title alone…

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How could you not want a book by Murakami with the title The Strange Library. This was a no brainer and at the till the bookseller was super duper effusive about it saying it was a marvellous dark little fairy tale, so it should be just my sort of read.

Finally I should add another three books though admittedly I didn’t buy them, though I think I did quite well on the buying front frankly.

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On the Thursday night I attended the Penguin Annual Bloggers Night at Foyles (yes them again) where I was lucky enough to meet three authors who have books out in 2015; Emma Hooper, Claire Fuller and Julia Rochester, so I grabbed their books. I also spoke to and shook the hand of William Gibson which was nice, though his books went like gold dust. I hear Marieke Hardy is a fan. It was also lovely to see Annabel, Simon, Sakura and Kim (the latter two also very nicely showed up at the Green Carnation Party) and we had a lovely catch up and natter, including the idea of having bloggers meet ups, as we did it once and it was lovely.

All in all a rather wonderful trip and a rather good book haul don’t you think? Which of these have you read and what did you make of them? Which of them do you fancy reading? What have you bought of late?

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