Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.
I bought Mystery in White in a pique of festivity last year. I’m led to believe that I’m far from alone in helping this 1930s crime story creep back into the limelight. It saddens me that this wonderful little book has been out of print for years but I’m so glad that it’s getting a revival.
What I love about books from the glory days of crime writing of Christie and Sayers, and what I loved about Mystery in White, is that the stories are intriguing and can keep you guessing without being so unsettling that you nearly rip your curtains off their poles trying to shut out the world and its darkness. I’ll admit that the actual mystery part of Mystery in White is a little lacking. And Then There Were None this is not. It’s not that there’s no tension (because there is), it’s more that it’s a different type of tension. It’s never quite clear whether the threat is from outside the house, inside the house or whether it’s something altogether more supernatural and there were moments where I did do a quick nervous check over my shoulder but there didn’t seem to be the sense of urgency that you might expect from a ‘trapped with a murderer prowling’ story. Perhaps because the characters are quite a stiff upper lip bunch or because the constant drift of snow and the whitewash it leaves breeds a different type of atmosphere. I absolutely wanted to know what the devil was going on in this mysterious house with seemingly haunted furniture but there was something less stomach-clenchingly nerve-wracking about the experience. Like murder for the festive season, you might say!
Fear not – what Mystery in White might lack (slightly!) in the intrigue department, it more than makes up for in the charm department. The writing has a warmth to it that just sings ‘golden age’. It’s witty and the sense of humour is dry and I enjoyed every single minute I was reading it. The characters are such a quintessentially British troop – old boreish chap that spent time in India and won’t stop going on about it, a swooning, ankle twisting delicate dancer and an eccentric and super-perceptive psychic investigator. You might not get to spend too long with them but they’re a heck of a lot of fun all the same.
It’s surprisingly comforting to read a ‘trapped in by the snow’ story without first having to have characters explain away their lack of mobile phones or wireless broadband. It’s snowing, the trains aren’t running, the main characters aren’t going anywhere and can’t communicate with the outside world so you can just settle in and enjoy.
I don’t want to say too much more. Everything will be much better if you pick it up, ready to be wrong-footed by the shifting chronology and tangled up in a mystery or two. When I picked it up, all I knew was what was on the blurb and this delicious quote that was printed on the back of my edition:
“The horror on the train, great though it may turn out to be, will not compare with the horror that exists here, in this house”
Just great stuff all round.
Overall: If you’re a fan of Christie or Sayers or any other classic mystery writers and you want something festive without anybody falling in love over mince pies, this is the book for you. At only 256 short pages, I just can’t express how perfect this would be for a snowy evening indoors.
If you’re looking for a bookish treat for yourself or a buddy for this Christmas, you can currently snag 3 of The British Library’s Crime Classics for the price of 2 on their website and purchases will support the British Library – WIN WIN!