I must have been around fourteen-years-old the first time I read a vintage crime novel. It was A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie, and it did not leave much of an impression. I was still learning English at the time – it is not my mother-tongue, which in retrospect might have been a factor. But other than reading Sherlock Holmes later on, my encounter with vintage crime was very brief. So I believe it is only natural that British Library Crime Classic publications would kindle my curiosity on vintage crime novels. 🙂
J. Jefferson Farjeon (Yes, he was a descendant of Thomas Jefferson!) had written Thirteen Guests in 1936. The story takes place in Bragley Court, Lord Aveling’s country house where he is hosting a hunting party. When John Foss, a man who accidentally injures himself at the local station is brought to Bragley Court for recovery, the number of guests at the house increases to unlucky thirteen, and thus begins a weekend full of sinister events. It first starts with a mutilated painting. But then the house pet gets stabbed and dead bodies start to appear, so the police are called to solve this whodunit.
One aspect I really loved about the novel is its setting. Farjeon takes us back in time and paints vivid pictures of the English countryside and people, so we too feel like guests at Lord Aveling’s hunting party, amidst of all the glory and glamor. Lord Aveling is an aristocrat with aspirations. Although he is not doing financially well, playing host allows him to keep up with appearances in high society. The level of meticulous planning that had gone into organizing the hunting party – from whom to invite so there will be a mix of people from different backgrounds to keep each other entertained to make it an unforgettable weekend – tells us how vital these parties must have been for one’s social standing in the golden age.
I also found it amusing to read how the police conducted their investigations. The work of detectives couldn’t have been easy on these days prior to DNA and other technological advancements. In Thirteen Guests the way Kendall, the lead detective built up the timeline was insightful. Kendall had to string together stories of guests and residents to come up with the timeline, and naturally, not everyone was forthcoming with information. Some of the witnesses had their own hypotheses, which they mixed up with reality. If Kendall had been an amateur detective he would have been totally lost, but thankfully he was not and he was also quite intuitive which proved to be one of his best assets solving these crimes.