As the subtitle A Christmas Crime Story may reveal, I actually started reading Mystery in White towards the tail end of last year. Over the last year or so I’ve become quite fascinated by the British Library Crime Classics series. Not only do they look lovely and uniform on a bookshelf, but they all also lovely “cosy crime” books, coming from a different age of crime writing. Mostly written by contemporaries of crime legend Agatha Christie, they are a time when without modern technology, crimes had to be solved by old fashioned sleuthing by detectives, police officers, or sometimes just those affected by the crimes. In short, they are the perfect distraction from modern day life. I’m n a quest to pick up as many of the titles in the series as I can from charity shops, and so far I seem to be doing rather well.
Mystery in White tells the story of a group of people who met when they shared a train carriage on a service out of London that ended up stuck in the snow on Christmas Eve. They leave the train and walk a way across fields to find a house. But the house they find appears to be empty. There are roaring fires and tea ready to serve, but no sign of anyone there. Whose house is it? Where have they gone? And what connection is there to an incident that happened in the next train carriage?
Now, being a train obsessive there were a few little details about the train in the story that I wanted to know more about. We know it was travelling out of London, but there seems to be a possible bit of confusion about where exactly it started. In the introduction, written by Martin Edwards, the train is described as “the 11.37 from St Pancras (or should that be Euston? both of those great stations are mentioned in the very first chapter)”. Now. I’ve read the first chapter several times now and I can only find mention of Euston station in it. In fact, two specific mentions of the train specifically being the 11.37 from Euston. The fact that the chorus girl in the carriage is trying to get to Manchester initially backs up the likelihood of the train having left from Euston based on modern-day running routes, but back in 1937 (when Mystery in White was published) trains ran from St Pancras to Manchester. Were both location mentioned in the first chapter and someone has edited St Pancras out? I’m intrigued and feel a need to dig a bit deeper to find out what went on here.
The train’s original departure point doesn’t really make any difference to the rest of the story though. It’s just a niggle for train geeks. What goes on at the house and how the main characters deal with it makes a lovely, gentle story. There is a point where it starts talking about ghosts, and I have to be honest and say that I nearly lost interest then, but it was as if someone then saw sense and brought it back to trying to solve a crime.
If you’re looking for a book to read when snowed in somewhere remote then this is either the perfect read, or will produce sleepless nights. The UK’s winters being somewhat milder than they used to be probably makes that quite unlikely, but then after the last couple of years who knows what is possible!
There are several more titles in the British Library Crime Classics series that I plan to share with you over the next few month. I’m also starting a little pet project about railways in fiction. I’m fascinated to look in more detail at how they feature in stories, in particular crime fiction, and how accurately they are portrayed. As anyone familiar with Agatha Christie’s work will know they feature in several of her books (…) but a quick look at the cover art for the BLCC series also shows trains make a regular appearance. Obviously in this book the train journey is only the start of the adventure, but I’m keen to see if that is true for other books in the series. I will report back.
Mystery in White is available to buy online here. If you want to find out more information about the British Library Crime Classics series then there is an excellent page on the British Library website here that lists all titles. All my reviews of titles from the series are here.