When I read about this trend my heart leapt. Could it actually mean that Bryant & May’s time had come? Am I ahead of the curve for once? Apparently, a Christmas detective novel that’s 70 years old has become a sleeper hit and resurrected interest in a long-forgotten crime writer.
Mystery in White: A Christmas Crime Story by J Jefferson Farjeon is selling in “astonishing numbers”, according to the Waterstones book chain. It has outsold rival paperbacks Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch on the high street, while Amazon temporarily ran out of stock last week due to surging demand.
The novel concerns a group of six archetypes stuck on a train stranded by snow on Christmas Eve. Fearing that they may find themselves marooned all night, they walk to the next station, coming across an unlocked house with dinner laid, kettle boiled and a fire on, but no one at home. Then a murderer strikes…
Now, this may be a bit of hubris on the part of the British Library Crime Classics series, which has been publishing some nostalgic and frankly not-very-wonderful novels from the pre-Second World War Golden Age of crime writing. But it’s true that over 155,000 copies in the series have been sold this year, but with ‘Mystery in White’ accounting for 60,000 of those sales. The book’s not much of a mystery but it is steeped in atmosphere. And unlike many modern Golden Age novels, it’s not parodic but played straight (I’m not a fan of books with titles like ‘Betsy Binkles and the Broken Teacup’).
Hmmm….Golden Age detectives trapped in snow trying to solve a murder, and the word ‘white’ in the title – where have I heard that before?