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by J. Jefferson Farjeon, forword by Martin Edwards
The British Library, September 2017
237 pages
8.99 GBP
ISBN: 0712356886

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Journalist Thomas Hazeldean sees a panicking man running from an isolated house on the coast. He chases him, hands him over to the police, and is then invited into the house to see the crime scene. The house is deserted, except for one room. This room has sealed windows, and contains seven corpses. One holds a note purporting to be from the 'Suicide Club', which is made less convincing by a cryptic scribble on the back, and by the door having been locked from the outside. Detective Inspector Kendall seems to believe in letting journalists think that they are joining in his investigations, and he is happy to let Hazeldean pursue a lead in France. Hazeldean takes his yacht across the Channel to Boulogne in search of the owners of the house and finds danger, romance and treachery.

SEVEN DEAD is part of The British Library Crime Classics series. The series title is a bit of a misnomer, as all the books in the series so far are by authors who were famous in their time, but fell out of popularity and print when they stopped writing. They are all recent enough to be ineligible for scanning by the Gutenburg Project, and all have an informative introduction by Martin Edwards. They're all worth reading because they depict the past from within, rather than with hindsight.

J. Jefferson Farjeon was a prolific writer who was careful to check his work for errors. Arguably the current boom in 'forgotten classics' from the thirties onwards is a result of the British Library's publication of Farjeon's A MYSTERY IN WHITE, which was a surprise Christmas bestseller in 2014. The British Library have also published Farjeon's thriller THE Z MURDERS and a previous Inspector Kendall story, THIRTEEN GUESTS.

SEVEN DEAD is a good, solidly written thriller with reasonable police procedural content. Farjeon is excellent in creating an oppressive atmosphere, particularly in the house where the bodies are found and in the pension in Bolougne where Hazeldean finds it almost impossible to enter a room without being struck down from behind or finding another corpse. Most of Hazeldean's part of the story takes place in the pension, while Kendall gets to visit several fields as well. The climax takes place literally in the middle of nowhere, and is just a little disappointing as the explanation of all the horrors is found in a diary (more or less the same as in three of Doyle's four Holmes novels).

Characterisation is functional and convincing. Apart from his habit of letting journalists scamper off following leads that the police aren't yet investigating, D.I. Kendall is a nicely sensible character. He has no particular vices or 'Great Detective' tricks and he's not fighting his personal demons, which is always a relief. Hazeldean is an eager reporter who can fall in love with someone simply by seeing an old picture of them, and is the sort of investigator the Detection Club would not have approved of.

All in all, a good story split between a thriller with an amateur protagonist and a detective story with a professional policeman. As a bonus, I now know that when telephones relied on switchboards manned by humans, they could send a 'howler' which made an awful noise if a phone was left off the hook.

Rik Shepherd has been a computer programmer and a web accessibility consultant. He lives in the north West of England and is mildly surprised to have just realised he's been reading crime fiction for 45 years.

Reviewed by Rik Shepherd, November 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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