One can learn many things on Facebook, like how to make cheese-stuffed garlic bread from those currently ubiquitous food videos or what household objects can also be used to scrape ice off your car. Granted these things are not always true (Zuckerberg is giving away millions) or even worth knowing (I will never braid my hair into the shape of a butterfly on top of a flower going over a waterfall, but thank you for sharing), but occasionally you come across something great. A few of our book-loving friends shared the picture below explaining the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, or the Christmas book flood, and immediately I was like “YES! THIS IS WHY FACEBOOK EXISTS.” This and seeing pictures of my friends’ adorable children and pets.
Brad and I are keen on traditions, so a new tradition that involves the giving and receiving of books plus time for reading on Christmas Eve? It was a no-brainer for sure, and this Christmas we celebrated our first Jolabokaflod. Brad’s gift to me was a golden age mystery by an author we had not read before and with a Christmas theme. Winner!
(In case you’d like to know, I got Brad The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada. I’ll have to let you know how that one is when I get around to it.)
Title: Mystery In White: A Christmas Crime Story
Author: J. Jefferson Farjeon
Format I Read: British Library Crime Classics paperback
Synopsis: A massive snowstorm strands a train in the countryside. As it’s Christmas Eve, a group of passengers decide to chance walking a few miles to the next station to try to salvage their Christmas travel plans. The snow continues to worsen, and they soon lose their way. Luckily, they stumble upon a large house. The door is open and the tea kettle is still hot but there is no one at home. Forced inside by the blizzard, the group of strangers must face the long night ahead together. What caused the house to be abandoned? What secrets does each passenger hold? Why is there a knife on the kitchen floor and a painting of an old man that seems to watch their every move? Only time will tell as they each do what they can to make it to Christmas morning alive.
Thoughts: Spoiler alert, I loved this book! We had never read anything by Farjeon before, and I was very pleasantly surprised. The writing is sharp, and the characterizations are well done. With many different characters it can sometimes be easy for some of them to get lost in the shuffle or blend together, but Farjeon does a great job of making each one stand out. He switches back and forth between characters often but it is never confusing or jarring as each personality is distinctly written. We also get to hear the inside thoughts of each character which I think widens the dimensions of the story.
There are some lines sprinkled throughout that cemented my love for this book. For example, on the first page when speaking about the snow he writes:
“Not this year!” sighed the disappointed sentimentalists as they slipped sadly through the slush.
But on the 21st the snow returned, this time in earnest. Brown became white again. The sounds of traffic were deadened. Wheel marks, foot marks, all marks, were blotted out as soon as they were made. The sentimentalists rejoiced.
I mean, did you catch that alliteration? The man knew how to write a catchy sentence. He also knew how to write atmosphere. Loads of atmosphere. The sections in the snow are cold, bleak. The sections in the house are warm yet tinged with chill and fear of the unknown. This is one of those books, like Ghost Story by Peter Straub, that even if I read it in the middle of summer, I would instantly be transported to winter. The overall mystery is good, and I felt the book came to a satisfying conclusion. I did not anticipate at all where it was going or how it ended up.
If you like golden age mysteries, do not let this one pass you by. I will definitely be searching out more J. Jefferson Farjeon books hoping that this was an indication of good books to come. This one is highly recommended, especially to read during the Christmas season.