Saturday, October 21, 2023

Jefferson Farjeon's Sergeant Pork Saga: Murder at a Police Station (1943) and Interrupted Honeymoon (1945)

The classic Farjeon thriller formula, as I have alluded to before, is for the author to take several individuals and entrap them in an isolated location, where they eventually have to match wits with some crooks with a criminal agenda.  His Mystery in White (1937) was perhaps the apex of this formula, which goes back to his debut Ben the Tramp mystery No. 17 (1926).  These thrillers usually make entertaining reading, primarily on account of the author's charming writing, but after a bit one does long for Farjeon ro alter his formula.  And he actually did so, especially in the late Thirties and Forties.  

In 1943 Farjeon introduced a new pen name, Anthony Swift, under which he rapidly wrote three mysteries: Murder at a Police Station (1943), November 5 at Kersea (1944) and Interrupted Honeymoon (1945).  The first of these is one of his genuine detective novels and one of his best books.  It takes place in the English village of Severing, which has a police force of two: the recently promoted Sergeant Henry Pork and his newly imported constable, who goes by the name of Jones.  

One dark and stormy night Sergeant Pork is called out on a case and when he returns to the little station (having found the call was faked), he finds an unknown dead man spawled there! The case, which he solves in one night with the assistance of his farm laborer father Jeremiah, something of a natural genius, manages in its short time to implicate the local gentry and nouveaux riche, a very Scottish Scotsman, a drunken artist, the village shopkeeper and her buxom daughter and a pugnacious farmer named Blythe and his daughter, Mary, in whom Sergeant Prk takes a definite interest (and Vice versa).  

It's an immensely enjoyable book, which is resolved through genuine detection.  In the United States it was published under Farjeon's own name and quite well reviewed.  (I have never seen the British edition.)  

Now, you may be asking if Sergeant Pork is any relation to Leo Bruce's Sergeant Beef.  It may be chicken of my to duck out of this question, but I simply don't know.  In both cases, of course, the surname suggests the character's humble social origins.  Sergeant Pork is much embarrassed by his surname, because--not get this--he secretly wants to be a poet (even poet laureate)!  Yes, Farjeon anticipated PD James and Adam Dalgliesh here.  He even works on poems (in his head) during the story, but he always gets stuck on the last line.  Still, he dreams of "thin, blue-bound volumes...lauded in the Times.

One might have thought "Anthony Swift" was to be the author of a Pork series, but the next book attributed to him, Kersea, is a non series London nightclub thriller.  Pork returns in the last Swift book (neither of these were published in the US), but disappointingly it's another Farjeon formula thriller.  He and Mary, having wed, are on their honeymoon at an Cornish isolated inn, when--well, if you've read much Farjeon, you've read it before, more or less.  (Did Dorothy L. Sayers influence this one?)  

Happily, there's a spunky maid named Jane and Pork's father shows up later in the book, but I do wish Farjeon had given us another Pork detective novel rather than another formula thriller, however charming the company.  

And that was the end of the Pork saga.  I wish there was more to it.  Leo Bruce as I recollect gave us a seven course Beef dinner.  But at least he appears in one classic mystery, one of Farjeon's best.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Project of a Lifetime: Centipede's Complete Cornell Woolrich Short Fiction Series (2012-?)

Centipede Press is a high end short fiction publisher who does a good bit of vintage crime fiction, including such noted authors as Jim Thompson, Fredric Brown and Cornell Woolrich.  They publish beautiful illustrated books with informative introductions in low print runs and, yes, higher prices--but if you think the initial prices are high, just wait until they go out of print!  Which they do, quickly.  I missed Stories to be Whispered, a collection of Cornell Woolrich short crime fiction. when it was issued in 2016 and never have found an affordable copy (for me) to this day.  

one of Centipede's Cornell Woolrich reprints

I am one of those people who believe that Woolrich excelled just as much, if not more, at crime fiction in its shorter forms, so last year I got in touch with Centipede, telling them about my Crimereads essay on Woolrich and explaining that I could do a good, original and updated introduction for the next volume.  Things went well and I ended up proposing further that Centipede publish a total of thirteen volumes to collect all of the Woolrich short crime fiction.  It really is past time that that be done, I felt.  So this is now the plan, I am happy to report.  I have selected the stories and titles for the future volumes.  It total 201 pieces of short crime, horror and adventure fiction, plus the autobiographical pieces from the fragmentary Blues of a Lifetime.  (If I am missing something, let me know by all means.)

There are currently four volumes in the Centipede series--Dark Melody of Madness, which is introduced by my friend Bill Pronzini, for over half a century (he started young) one of the keenest analysts of hard-boiled and noir crime fiction out there--Speak to Me of Death, which I reviewed at the blog over a decade ago, Stories to be Whispered and Walls That Hear You, which I reviewed in 2021.  The new volume that I am introducing, Silent as the Grave, should be ready for Christmas and I think it would be lovely to start a tradition of having a Cornell for Christmas!  Surely nothing says Christmas--Black Christmas--like Cornell Woolrich.  

What follows below is a list of all thirteen volumes in the series, followed by their projected contents.  The idea of doing another eight volumes of Cornell Woolrich short crime fiction is appealing, but at the rate these things go, it would take another fifteen years or so at best to get them out, so will see.  

Some might say having thirteen volumes is bad luck, but it seems appropriate for Cornell.  By the way, I have no intention of doing all the intros, because I think it is good to have some variety of perspective with these things.  I already have other people in mind.  (I do want to introduce Vol. 6, One Drop of Blood, however, because I want to make a defence there of Woolrich as a writer of detection.)  But we'll have to see what the years bring, this year has been, to be honest, a most unhappy one personally for me, with the deaths of Rupert and my father.  

Cornell would know about loss.  I think it's time we showed the man some genuine sympathy, while allowing for his flaws, rather than mock him for his weaknesses and vilify him for things he may not even have done.  Certainly some of his problems were self-made or self-exacerbated, but that does not make him any less deserving of empathy.  Some of the writing about woolrich reminds me of those old Charles Atlas ads in comic books depicting the bully kicking sand in the 98-pound weakling's face.  Give his physical and mental maladies, we should be celebrating Woolrich for all he accomplished.  

And now let's look at the "black series":

1. Dark Melody of Madness

2. Speak to Me of Death

3. Stories to Be Whispered

4. Walls That Hear You

5. Silent as the Grave

6. One Drop of Blood

7. Through a Dead Man’s Eye

8. The Light in the Window

9. Too Nice a Day to Die

10. My Lips Destroy

11. Three Kills for One

12. Right in the Middle of New York

13. Of Time and Murder


Vol. I: Dark Melody of Madness (5)

Graves for the Living 1937 DM

Jane Brown’s Body AAF 1938

Dark Melody of Madness aka Papa Benjamin DM 1935

I’m Dangerous Tonight AAF 1937

Mannequin 1966 SMM


Vol. II: Speak to Me of Death (15)

It Had to be Murder/Rear Window


Three O’Clock

The Night Reveals

Dead on Her Feet


Murder in Wax (expanded as The Black Angel)

Speak to Me of Death (expanded as Night Has a Thousand Eyes)

The Corpse and the Kid

The Living Lie Down with the Dead

I Won’t Take a Minute aka Finger of Doom

The Corpse Next Door

Wardrobe Trunk aka Dilemma of the Dead Lady

The Death of Me

Dusk to Dawn


Vol. III: Stories to be Whispered (13)

After-Dinner Story

An Apple a Day


Detective William Brown

Endicott’s Girl

The Heavy Sugar

The Case of the Killer-Diller

The Hummingbird Comes Home

All at Once, No Alice

Don’t Wait up for Me Tonight aka Goodbye, New York

Guillotine aka Men Must Die

Murder, Obliquely 1958 Violence revision of Death Escapes the Eye

Story to be Whispered


Vol. IV: Walls That Hear You (17)

Death Sits on the Dentist’s Chair

Walls That Hear You

Kiss of the Cobra

Hot Water

Change of Murder

Johnny on the Spot

Double Feature

One and a Half Murders


Mind over Murder

The Book That Squealed aka Library Book

Meet Me by the Mannequin

The Penny-a-Worder

Murder at Mother’s Knee

The Body in Grant’s Tomb

When Love Turns aka Je t’aime

Life Is Weird Sometimes


Vol. V: Silent as the Grave (18/17)

Even God Felt the Depression BOAL

Dime a Dance aka The Dancing Detective 1938 BM

Two Fellows in a Furnished Room aka He Looked Like Murder 1941 DFW

You’ll Never See Me Again 1939 SASDS

Murder at the Automat 1937 DD

Bequest 1942 DT

Collared 1939 BM

Fountain Pen aka Dipped in Blood 1945 SASDS

IOU 1938 DoD

Silent as the Grave 1945 MBM

One Last Night 1940 SASDS

I’ll Take You Home, Kathleen 1956 Nightmare expansion of above

You Take Ballistics 1938 DoD

The Red Tide (alt. version Last Night) 1940 SASDS

If the Dead Could Talk 1943 BM

The Room with Something Wrong aka Mystery in Room 1938 DFW

Wake up with Death 1937 DFW not reprinted

Crazy House 1941 DD


Vol. VI: One Drop of Blood (20/19)

Remington Portable NC69411 BOAL

Murder Story 1937 DFW

C-Jag aka Cocaine 1940 BM

Fire Escape aka The Boy Cried Murder 1947 MBM

You Pays Your Nickel slightly rev. as The Phantom of the Subway 1936 Argosy

Death in the Air 1936 DFW

The Showboat Murders 1935 DFW

The Screaming Laugh 1938 CDM

Mamie ‘n Me 1938 AAF

Hot Towel 1938 DoD

The Case of the Maladroit Manicurist 1941 DD

Stuck aka Stuck with Murder 1937 DD

Flat Tire aka Short Order Kill 1938 DD

U, As in Murder 1941 DD

Cool, Calm and Detected 1941 BM

Dormant Account 1942 BM aka Chance

Orphan Ice 1942 DD

Leg Man 1943 DD

Fur Jacket aka What the Well Dressed Corpse Will Wear 1944 DD

One Drop of Blood 1962 EQMM


Vol. VII: Through a Dead Man’s Eye (20)

If I Die Before I Wake 1937 DFW

Through a Dead Man’s Eye 1939 BM

Eyes That Watch You aka The Case of the Talking Eyes 1939 DD

Death Escapes the Eye 1947 SMM

Bluebeard’s Seventh Wife 1936 DFW

Cinderella and the Mob 1940 Argosy

The Earring aka The Death Stone DFW 1943 DFW

The Man Upstairs 1945 MBM

The Detective’s Dilemma 1940 DFW

Blind Date with Death 1937 DD

The Riddle of the Redeemed Dips 1940 DD

The Death Diary 1943 FDF (formerly DFW)

Death in Duplicate aka The Ice Pick Murders DFW 1940

Death in Round Three 1937 PD

Murder on the Night Boat 1937 BM

Funeral aka Your Own Funeral 1937 Argosy

Silhouette 1939 DFW

Husband 1949 TBR

Last Night 1943 expansion of The Red Tide from I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes

Somebody on the Phone aka Deadly Night Call 1937 DFW


Vol VIII: The Light in the Window (16)

The Light in the Window 1946 MBM

Nightmare aka And So to Murder 1941 Argosy

I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes 1938 DFW

I’ll Never Play Detective Again 1937 BM

Murder on My Mind 1936 DFW revised as The Morning after Murder

The Counterfeit Hat aka He Talked through His Hat 1939 DFW

The Dog with the Wooden Leg SASDS 1939

Red Liberty 1935 DD

The Corpse in the Statue of Liberty revision of above from Violence 1958

The Cape Triangular 1938 DFW

Nine Lives 1936 DFW not reprinted

Mimic Murder 1937 BM

The Fingernail aka The Customer Is Always Right 1941 DT

The Lie 1937 DFW

I’m Ashamed 1965 Dark Side of Love

Intent to Kill 1967 SMM


Vol. IX: Too Nice a Day to Die (20/18)

The Poor Girl BOAL

Preview of Death 1934 DD

Screen-Test revised version of above 1956 Nightmare

Shooting Going on 1937 BM

Picture Frame 1944 BM

Afternoon of a Phony 1936 DFW not reprinted

Flowers from the Dead 1940 DD

Face Work aka Angel Face 1937 BM

Cab, Mister? 1937 BM

The Death Rose 1943 BDS

Death Between Dances 1948 SMM

The Maid Who Played the Races BOAL

Soda Fountain Saga aka Soda Fountain 1930 Liberty rev. SSMM 1960

Somebody Else’s Life expansion of teleplay Somebody’s Clothes—Somebody’s Life 1958

The Hopeless Defense of Mrs. Dellford 1942 DD

That New York Woman 1958 Violence revision of above

The Poker Player’s Wife 1962 SMM/Dark Side of Love

The Idol with the Clay Bottom 1965 Knight/Dark Side of Love

For the Rest of Her Life 1968 EQMM

Too Nice a Day to Die 1965 Dark Side of Love


Vol. X: My Lips Destroy (17)

The Death of Me 1935 DFW

The Night I Died 1936 DFW

You Bet Your Life 1937 DFW

Borrowed Crime 1939 BM

Waltz 1935 DoD

One Night in Barcelona 1947 MBM

Crime on St. Catherine Street 1936 Argosy

Underworld Trail 1936 Argosy

Death in the Yoshiwara 1938 Argosy

Wild Bill Hiccup 1938 Argosy

Senor Flatfoot 1940 Argosy

Damn Clever, These Americans 1937 Argosy

Gun for a Gringo 1936 Argosy not reprinted

The Moon of Montezuma 1952 Fantastic

Vampire’s Honeymoon 1939 Horror Stories

My Lips Destroy 1959 Beyond the Night revision of above

Baal’s Daughter 1936 TM not reprinted


Vol. XI: Three Kills for One (18/17)

President Eisenhower’s Speech BOAL

The Blue Ribbon 1949 TBR

The Black Bargain 1956 Justice

The Number’s Up 1959

Blue is for Bravery 1937 DFW

If the Shoe Fits 1943 DD

The Body Upstairs 1935 DD

The Fatal Footlights aka Death at the Burlesque 1941 DFW

Charlie Won’t Be Home Tonight 1939 DD

Three Kills for One 1942 BM

The Clean Fight 1965 Dark Side of Love

Blonde Beauty Slain aka Newspaper Headline EQMM 1959

Murder after Death 1964 EQMM

Steps…Coming Near aka The Jazz Record 1964 EQMM

It Only Takes a Minute to Die 1966 EQMM

Divorce—New York Style 1967 EQMM

New York Blues 1970 EQMM

The Dark Oblivion 2021 EQMM


Vol. XII: Right in the Middle of New York (all previously not reprinted) (21)

Right in the Middle of New York aka Murder in the Middle of New York 1936 DFW

Round Trip to the Cemetery 1937 DFW

The Mystery of the Blue Spot 1936 DFW

Blood in Your Eye 1936 DFW

Vision of Murder 1937 DFW

The Gun but Not the Hand 1937 DFW

The Two Deaths of Barney Slabaugh 1936 DFW

Come Witness My Murder 1943 FDF (formerly DFW)

The Evil Eye 1936 AHD 

Death on Delivery 1943 DD

Taxi Dance Murder 1937 TDA

Never Kick a Dick 1938 DoD

The Woman’s Touch 1938 DoD

I Hereby Bequeath 1938 DoD

Holocaust 1936 Argosy

Black Cargo 1937 Argosy

Oft in the Silly Night 1937 Argosy not reprinted

Public Toothache Number One 1936 Argosy

Money Talks 1962 EQMM

Crime by the Forelock 1939 BM

Nelli from Zelli’s 1937 BM


Vol. XIII: Of Time and Murder (Novelettes That Became Novels) (6 or 8?)

Murder in Wax 1935 (expanded as The Black Angel)

Speak to Me of Death 1936 (expanded as Night Has a Thousand Eyes)—both included in Vol. 1, would you want to do them again here?

Those Who Kill 1939 DFW (expanded as Phantom Lady)

The Street of Jungle Death 1939 SDM (expanded as Black Alibi)

Of Time and Murder 1941 DFW (expanded as Deadline at Dawn)

Havana Night 1942 DFW (expanded as The Black Path of Fear)

Four Bars of Yankee Doodle 1945 MBM (expanded as Strangler’s Serenade)

They Call Me Patrice 1946 TW (expanded as I Married a Dead Man)

Sunday, October 1, 2023

A Kinder, Gentler Thriller: Trunk Call (1932), by Jefferson Farjeon

In my end is my beginning....And to make an end is to make a beginning.  The end is where we start from.--TS Eliot, Four Quartets

Jefferson Farjeon (1883-1952) 

So after this blog's near dozen years of existence (it started in November 2011, when I was a mere lad in my forties), I come back to the beginning, to Golden Age English thriller and mystery writer Joseph Jefferson Farjeon.  What a time Farjeon and I have had over this period--but more so Farjeon.  

Three years after I posted about the author's Christmas crime thriller, Mystery in White, on the day after Christmas 2011, the novel was reprinted as a Christmas release in 2014 by the British Library, who up until that time had enjoyed far lesser success with its reprinting of three forgotten--and decidedly mediocre--detective stories by M. Doriel Hay, a Golden Age back number if ever there were one.  (To be sure, a couple of reprints of John Bude mysteries got more favorable attention.)  

But things went differently with Jefferson Farjeon's Christmas number, which became a bestseller in England, with 60,000 thousand books sold there by December 21, 2014.  In truth Jefferson Farjeon really launched the large scale Golden Age publishing revival, which had been going on but fitfully until Mystery in White appeared.  

My book Masters of the Humdrum Mystery, about a trio of Golden Age "Humdrum" greats, John Street (John Rhode/Miles Burton), Freeman Wills Crofts and JJ Connington, had been published in 2012, followed by other books and articles on Golden Age mystery (and many, many blog posts), but it was really Martin Edwards' popular book about the Detection Club, The Golden Age of Murder, published by HarperCollins in 2015, that got widescale attention.  Martin occupied his strategic perch with the British Library and the BL since has produced a succession of successful Golden Age revival reprints.  Fortunately I have been able to work with other, for the most part, smaller publishers and through them do a lot of things, bringing many authors back into light.

BL published several more titles by Jefferson Farjeon (and John Bude), but regrettably these authors seem to have been dropped by them of late.  By Farjeon there was Thirteen Guests, Seven Dead, The "Z" Murders, I know--I can't recall if they did any others.  Nobody at BL ever consulted me about it, though I can't imagine that my blog post on Mystery in White didn't inspire the reprinting of the book.  When I started blogging about Jefferson Farjeon back in Nov. and Dec. of 2011 there were literally no other posts about Jefferson Farjeon on the internet.  I checked.  I never talked to anyone who knew who he was, though booksellers then had plenty of copies of his books to sell.  

Those have mostly since disappeared, but I was able to get copies of all of his mysteries, and actually read them.  With my parents in Louisiana, where I had gone to graduate school, I went to visit Rip Van Winkle, the fanciful Cajun country home of Farjeon's once- famed actor grandfather, Joe Jefferson, for whom he was named.  I tried to get in touch with his daughter and nieces and nephews, then still living.  

I always felt that Farjeon was one of my finds and was rather proprietorial about him.  To have my role in his fantastic, improbable revival go unacknowledged by the people who had been involved in it (one of whom is a great advocate of authors' rights) was a great disappointment, to say the least.  But so it goes.  Some authors grab the brass ring, others slip and fall and hope they don't break any bones because they may not have the health insurance to pau for mending.  I had to move and on and do the best I could.

Jefferson Farjeon, who like his author father Benjamin Farjeon, a contemporary and friend of Charles Dickens, had great sympathy for the little guy, the underdog, like his series tramp character Ben, would have appreciated this situation, I'm sure.  When Jefferson Farjeon died at the age of 72 in 1955, he left an estate of just a smidgen over 2000 pounds--about $68,000 dollars today.  He came to writing crime novels late, when he was forty years of age, but between his first, The Master Criminal, in 1924 and and his last, Castle of Fear, in 1954, he published 53 of them, or about five every three years.  Let me pause to list them here:

1. The Master Criminal 1924 Dial

2. Uninvited Guests 1925 Dial

3. No. 17 1926 Dial

4. At the Green Dragon 1926 Dial

5. The Crook's Shadow 1927 Dial

6. The House of Disappearance 1928 Dial

7. Shadows by the Sea 1928 Dial

8. Underground 1929 Dial

9. The 5.18 Mystery 1929 Dial

10. The Person Called Z 1930 Dial

11. The Mystery on the Moor 1930 Dial (The Appointed Date)

12. The House Opposite 1931 

13. The Murderer's Trail 1931 

14. The "Z" Murders 1932

15. Trunk Call 1932 Dial

16. Ben Sees It Through 1932

17. The Mystery of the Creek 1933 Dial

18. Dead Man's Heath 1933 Dodd, Mead

19. Old Man Mystery 1933

20. Fancy Dress Ball 1934 Bobbs-Merrill, 1939

21. The Windmill Mystery 1934

22. Sinister Inn 1934

23. Little God Ben 1935

24. Holiday Express 1935

25. Detective Ben 1936

26. Dangerous Beauty 1936

27. Holiday at Half-Mast 1937

28. Mystery in White 1937 Bobbs-Merrill

29. Dark Lady 1938

30. End of an Author 1938 Bobbs-Merrill (Death in the Inkwell)

31. Seven Dead 1939 Bobbs-Merrill

33. Exit John Horton 1939 Bobbs-Merill (Friday the 13th)

33. Aunt Sunday Sees It Through 1940 Bobbs-Merrill

34. Room Number Six 1941

35. The Third Victim 1941

36. The Judge Sums Up 1942 Bobbs-Merrill

37. Murder at a Police Station (as Anthony Swift) 1943 Bobbs-Merrill

38. The House of Shadows 1943

39. November 5 at Kersea (as AS) 1944

40. Greenmask 1944 Bobbs-Merrill

41. Interrupted Honeymoon (as AS) 1945

42. Black Castle 1945

43. The Oval Table 1946

44. Peril in the Pyrenees 1946

45. Prelude to Crime 1948

46. The Shadow of Thirteen 1949

47. The Disappearances of Uncle David 1949

48. Cause Unknown 1950

49. The House over the Tunnel 1951

50. Ben on the Job 1952

51. Number Nineteen 1952

52. The Double Crime 1953

53. Castle of Fear 1954

Farjeon wrote screenplays too, and some of his books were adapted as films, most famously his first Ben the Tramp book, No. 17, in 1932, in a film helmed by on the rise director Alfred Hitchcock.  Where did all the money go?  Or did not as much come in as we may think?

One problem for Farjeon was that his publishing in the huge American market was erratic.  His first eleven crime novels were published in the US by Dial, plus a couple of later ones, before Dial dropped him.  Dodd, Mead published one.  Then another nine of his were picked up by Bobbs-Merrill, beginning with Mystery in White in 1937 and ending with Greenmask in 1944.  But that would be only 23 of his 54 mysteries, about forty percent of his total output.  

Perhaps Farjeon's thrillers were too mild for the American market.  The critics quite liked him though, on both sides of the pond.  The believed retired Yale English literature professor and influential public intellectual William Lyon Phelps was a great booster of his.  He died in 1943, a year before America gave Farjeon the boot.  Mickey Spillane would come along just a few years later with his crude and nasty hymns to violence.  Farjeon must have seemed terrible antiquated.  

Jefferson Farjeon was what you might call a kind, gentler thriller writer, not only in comparison with the hard-boiled pulp writers of America like Spillane but even to other British thriller writers like Sapper and Sax Rohmer and Peter Cheyney.  The classic Farjeon thriller is about anticipation, with a good dollop of whimsical humor along the way.  You might compare it to some of the lighter Thirties film thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock.  (Farjeon also wrote light, noncriminous novels of humor and romance.)

Let's now take a short look at Trunk Call, a 1932 Farjeon mystery, his sixteenth, one by no means remarkable in his output, but certainly representative of it in many ways. In this one the mystery novelist Tony Everard has just finished writing his latest book and now is heading out to Torquay for a spot of seaside rest and relaxation.  Little does he know what lies in store for him!

Farjeon's writing here is amusing and no doubt wryly autobiographical.  As Tony passes the railway bookstall, he notices regretfully that it is "bristling with P. G. Wodehouse, Ian Hay and Edgar Wallace," but that it "did not seem to have heard of T. Everard."  Well, that's Farjeon, a humor writer not as popular as Wodehouse, a thriller writer not as popular as Wallace.  

Anyway at the Torquay hotel Tony happens to be by the phone booth when he hears a man in there asking for his London number.  When the connection is made, the man gets an answer to his trunk call, from Tony's ostensibly empty house!  Who in the world could this be?  Unfortunately, Tony loses track of the phone caller, distracted by that pretty girl from the train, who has turned up at the hotel too.  It seems that pretty girl keeps turning up around him....

Farjeon always knew how to open a thriller, but sometimes the endings don't live up to the splendid  openings, and this is one of times.  By the second half or so of the novel I was more interested in it for Farjeon's philosophical musings, often rather pithily phrased, like:

Queer ideas come to you at 3 A.M., and you do not refer to them at the breakfast table next morning.

Life is a tussle between joy and sorrow, gloom and happiness, and while we experience the one, the other becomes just a theory.

...he regarded himself in the mirror--and like all palin people he did this frequently in the hope of one day encountering a miracle....[this about Tony's friend Claude; I suspect this is somewhat autobiographical too, though I rather like Farjeon's face]

The best thing on the journey--apart from the actual end of it--was a cup of tea.

Everything is how you look at it.  In your happiest moment you may form a sad memory to a stranger with a load on his back.  You funeral may be merely a point on the way to a cricket match.

Holiday-makers, revelling in the late summer's attempt to make good its early omissions....

The only reason Mr. Waverley's eyebrows did not continue to rise was because they had now reached the limits of their elevation.  

Even in emotional moments, only the greatest writers writers can escape from the lure of alliteration.

How wonderful even terror is...if one goes through it with companionship!  I expect that's all life amounts to, really.  Loneliness is the only real terror in it!

Near the very end of the novel Tony and that pretty girl, who goes by the Christian name of Elizabeth, discuss the nature of badness--or rotterdom, shall we call it?--and Tony once again waxes philosophical: 

We're all Jekylls and Hydes, you know.  The quantities of Jekylls and Hydes with which we've got to go through life are determined for us long before we've had any chance of influencing the chemistry....To judge people by one pattern--and, as a rule, the pattern most convenient to the judges--is the hopeless mistake so many of us make.  There are millions of patterns.  We don't all start even....One can't see in the darkness....I expect [the villain's] excuse [for his villainy] is that he's never been given a light....

This generous and optimistic social philosophy is a direct descendant of Charles Dickens and Farjeon's father, who represented the generous and optimistic side of Victorianism.  (For more on this, and the more crimped and pessimistic opposing side, see this Crimereads piece by me.)  It's a world away, I think, from Sapper and his followers, whom Farjeon might be chiding here in this passage:

My theory is that sneaks and listeners often crumble into dust if you give them one good square British bulldog look!

Yes--that would be your theory.  

Farjeon's hero agonizes about whether he can call the pretty girl by her first name, a scruple I find charming in this age when people use your first name immediately upon meeting you, whjether you want them to or not.

So there's a great quaintness to Farjeon's niceness.  Farjeon is the nicest thriller I have ever encountered.  Sometimes this quality may undermine the thrills, but it makes reading him withal a pleasant experience.

A few days before Christmas 1954, less than six months before he died at the age of 72, Farjeon in a newspaper letter concerning the recent controversial airing of a television adaptation of George Orwell's bleak futuristic dystopian novel 1984, took issue with Orwell's representation that human nature could be so remorselessly manipulated and transformed:

[I]n Orwell's grim conception, the spirit of man had no reality, and instead of glowing from an eternal source, it can be snuffed out like the flame of a candle.  That surely is not true.  

I share the belief that evil is self-destructive, while good goes on....I think there is only one answer we can give to [the problem of evil] attend to our own hearts....When enough of us do this the world will not need to to worry--nor will it require armies.

How Dickensian a view, as George Orwell would have said.  In fact, Orwell did say it.  

Farjeon did lose faith once, in his own grim apocalyptic novel Death of a World, a superb though sad book published in 1948, a year before the Russians tested their own atom bomb.  But his crime thrillers are hopeful and comforting.  If there is such a thing as a cozy crime thriller, Farjeon wrote it.  He was also a natural writer, making his books invariably good reads, even when the plots seem on autopilot.  Highly prolific mystery writers have to come up with plot after plot, year after year, we must recall, and these harsh authorial regimes can wear out a mystery writer.  Even Christie and Carr and Queen were worn down eventually.  During his thirty-year crime writing career, Farjeon did come up with some excellent plots, however, and they grace his best books.  I will review one of those next.  It's the beginning of the end.  And the end of the beginning.