Seven Dead is an atmospheric crime novel by J Jefferson Farjeon first published in 1939 and now republished as part of the British Library Crime Classic Series.
Seven Dead Book Synopsis
With an Introduction by Martin Edwards
Ted Lyte, the amateur thief, has chosen an isolated house by the coast for his first robbery. But Haven House is no ordinary country home. While hunting for silverware to steal, Ted stumbles upon a locked room containing seven dead bodies.
Detective Inspector Kendall takes on the case with the help of passing yachtsman Thomas Hazeldean. The search for the house’s absent owners brings Hazeldean across the Channel to Boulogne, where he finds more than one motive to stay and investigate.
(Poisoned Pen Press)
Genre: Mystery, Crime-Detective, Thriller, Classics
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What have I learned from reading this republication of Jefferson Farjeon’s Seven Dead, a title released more than 70 years ago?
I need to make more time for classic crime novels. The absence of technological advancement at that time left far greater scope for mystery and the plausible perpetration of novel and outlandish crimes. These investigative journeys offer modern readers mental puzzles and escapism, rather than fodder for nightmares.
The tale Jefferson Farjeon spins in Seven Dead is one of the most original crime stories I have encountered. The level of skulduggery and chicanery at play, and how random and peculiar the clues left at first appeared, were enthralling.
I found the quirky troupe of characters investigating the mysterious set of events, or more specifically the interaction between them, right up my alley. It is not a comedy of errors exactly but features the often circuitous dialogue and rapid-fire banter often found in them.
Wade looked crestfallen, but he wasn’t quite beaten yet.
“What I do wrong, sir,” he said, “is to mention things. I get you.” Sarcasm was met by sarcasm. “If you got me as often as you think you do, I should be in a permanent state of capture,” answered Kendall . They were emerging from the narrow path by the side of the house on to the back lawn. “Your trouble isn’t that you fail to mention things, Wade, but that you mention them too late, and then incompletely. I have no doubt that, three years after your death, you will send somebody the information. Listen— and with your mind this time, not your mouth.
The humor is dry and delightfully understated.
“Listen,” said Kendall, at last. “You’ll soon be hearing a long story, if you’re interested — and it’s pretty plain now that you’ll have to be — but meanwhile you know that I am investigating the deaths of seven people.”
“We were impressed with the number,” the commissaire assured him, “and we are abashed that we ourselves can only produce a paltry one.”
The construction of the chapters reads almost as though this story has been serialized. Perhaps it was, or Jefferson Farjeon originally intended it to be — I really do not know. Each ends with a teaser or mini cliffhanger. The effect is a novel that feels fast-paced, even jaunty at times, despite being heavy on dialogue.
Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon is an imaginative and entertaining crime romp. A title I’d highly recommend for readers who enjoy comedic farce and mysteries of the cozier variety.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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Related Reads: Fatal Induction by Bernadette Pajer / Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen / Death Leaves the Station by Andrew Thorpe / The Comedy Club Mystery by Peter Bartram
About the Author, J Jefferson Farjeon
Joseph Jefferson Farjeon (1883 – 1955) was the author of more than sixty crime and thriller novels. His work was highly acclaimed in his day; Dorothy L. Sayers wrote that ‘Jefferson Farjeon is quite unsurpassed for creepy skill in mysterious adventures. Farjeon is now best known as the author of Number Seventeen, a play that was adapted for the big screen by Alfred Hitchcock.
* My receiving a copy of Seven Dead from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.