J Jefferson Farjeon (1883 – 1955)


1135708Joseph Jefferson Farjeon (4 June 1883 – 6 June 1955) was an English crime and mystery novelist, playwright and screenwriter. His father, brother and sister also made names for themselves in literature. He was the brother of the children’s writer Eleanor Farjeon and the playwright Herbert Farjeon. Although he was a descendant of Thomas Jefferson, Farjeon was named after his maternal grandfather, the American actor Joseph Jefferson. He was educated privately and at Peterborough Lodge. From 1910 to 1920 he did editorial work for the Amalgamated Press.

Farjeon’s crime novels were admired by Dorothy L. Sayers, who called him “unsurpassed for creepy skill in mysterious adventures.” His obituarist in The Times talked of “ingenious and entertaining plots and characterization,” while The New York Times, reviewing an early novel, Master Criminal (1924), states that “Mr. Farjeon displays a great deal of knowledge about story-telling… and multiplies the interest of his plot through a terse, telling style and a rigid compression.” The Saturday Review of Literature called Death in the Inkwell (1942) an “amusing, satirical, and frequently hair-raising yarn of an author who got dangerously mixed up with his imaginary characters.”

Most of Farjeon’s works had been forgotten, but the figure of Ben in Number 17 (1926) appeared again in a string of novels, including Ben on the Job (1932), reissued in 1955 and 1985. The House Opposite (1931), the first full-length original novel to feature Ben, was reissued under the revived Collins Crime Club imprint in 2015, followed by the seven other “Ben” novels in 2016.

A significant revival of interest in the Golden age of detective fiction had followed the 2014 success of The British Library reissue of Mystery in White: A Christmas Crime Story (1937). There followed two further reissues in 2015: Thirteen Guests (1936) and The Z Murders (1932). Mystery in White is also one of at least three of his novels to have appeared in Italian, French, Dutch (Het mysterie in de sneeuw – The Mystery in the Snow), German, Spanish (Misterio en blanco, Siruela 2016), Polish and Russian.

Seven Dead (1939) has been reissued by The British Library (September 2017). The novel sees the return of Detective-Inspector Kendall, first seen, in the words of its central character “…in the case of the Thirteen Guests. What I liked about him was that he didn’t play the violin, or have a wooden leg or anything of that sort. He just got on with it.” (Several sources: Wikipedia and Gadetection).

Curtis Evans wrote at The Passing Tramp: ‘Between 1924 (The Master Criminal) and 1954 (Castle of Fear), Farjeon published by my count fifty-five adult mystery novels (including a few under the name Anthony Swift; he also published several children’s mysteries).  He achieved considerable popularity in both the United States and Great Britain, in the latter country becoming one of the staple authors of the Collins Crime Club from 1929 until his death; and he had the distinction, along with such authors as Josephine Tey, Ethel Lina White, Selwyn Jepson and Francis Beeding, of having one of his works, in his case the play (later novel) No. 17, made into an Alfred Hitchcock film.’

‘Farjeon novels that in my view [Curtis Evans] particularly stand out include (besides such “Ben the Tramp” books as Ben on the Job, 1952): The Z Murders (1932), Holiday Express (1935), Thirteen Guests (1936), Mystery in White (1937), End of an Author (1938), Aunt Sunday Sees It Through/Aunt Sunday Takes Command (1940), The Judge Sums Up (1942), and
The Double Crime
(1953).’

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(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Collins The Crime Club (UK), 1937)

‘Dorothy L.Sayers was a Farjeon fan, and so was Keating. More recently, Curt Evans has written very positively about him. You have to be a good writer to attract the interest of such expert judges,as well as Hitchcock, and Farjeon was certainly an accomplished novelist, who was trying to do something other than write conventional whoduntis. Mystery in White is an enjoyable read that deserves to be better known.’ (Source: Martin Edwards at  ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’)

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