J. JEFFERSON FARJEON – Mystery in White. British Library, UK, softcover, 2014. Introduction by Martin Edwards. First published by Collins Crime Club, UK, hardcover, 1937. Bobbs-Merrill, US, hardcover, 1938.

   There were some “lost classics” published during the Golden Age of Detection, I am sure, and this is almost — but not quite — one of them. The good news, though, is that as a puzzle story there are parts of Mystery in White that are absolutely terrific. If actual detective work in the crime fiction you read is your meat, this is definitely one you should not miss. The original edition is difficult, if not impossible, to find, but the recent reprint illustrated here is easy to obtain, and happily so.

   This one starts out on a train stranded in a sudden blizzard that has blown up just before Christmas, and the passengers in one compartment decide as a group to hoof it through the snow to the next station. Not a good idea, as it turns out, since if trains can’t get through, then how can people on foot?

   Suddenly a haven appears. A house with the lights on, the door unlocked, a blazing fire in the fireplace, and the table set for tea. But — and it’s a huge but — the house is otherwise empty. What should they do? Take advantage of the shelter, they decide, and repay their unseen host later, when they can.

   But wait, there’s more. Apparently a murder was committed on the train, and a killer is on the loose. Strange noises are heard in the house, which also seems to have ghostly emanations throughout. And more: footprints in the snow are found coming and going all night long. There is also more than one murder committed, perhaps as many as three.

   Doing an excellent job of deduction, at least in the first two-thirds of the book is the “old man” his fellow passengers first met on the train, or that is to say, Mr Edward Maltby of the Royal Psychical Society, and for a change, he allows his deductions to be challenged by the others — an absolute breath of fresh air from the infallible detectives of other books, those who hold back their thoughts and conclusions until the book is almost over and they’re finally ready to point their finger at the guilty party or parties.

   It is too much too hope for, then, with such a buildup of atmosphere, clues and various cries for help and other mysterious events in the night, that the ending — and a final explanation — can live up to what precedes. Alas, it doesn’t, and nothing probably could. Anything less than pure legerdemain would be a letdown, and there’s too much tramping around in blizzard conditions and waist-high snow to be realistic. This is a book that’s still a lot of fun to read, but as I said in the first paragraph above, a lost classic? No, far from it, but it’s good enough that I wish I could say otherwise!