The Z Murders (1932) by J. Jefferson Farjeon
Richard Temperley arrives at Euston station early one morning--too early to go on to his sister's house where he is due to stay. So, upon the advice of a helpful porter, he heads to the hotel across the street to rest for a bit before a warm fire in the lounge. On the way into the room, he encounters a beautiful young woman who seems in a bit of a hurry. A noisy fellow passenger who snored all through the train ride has also sought shelter in the room. As Temperley settles into a chair by the fire, he sees the man (as he thinks) asleep in a chair by the window. But then he notices something odd...the man is no longer snoring. And there's a very good reason for that. He's been shot. And a mysterious bit of crimson enameled metal has been left at the scene--shaped as the letter Z.
When questioned by the police, Temperley has little to tell and Inspector James seems satisfied with his answers. But when the inspector leaves the room for a moment, Temperpley chances to find a woman's handbag in the crack of his chair. Does it belong to the alluring young woman? He's made up his mind that she's innocent in this business and keeps his find to himself. As soon as the police release him, he's off to try and find the woman. And winds up involved in a cross-country trek. He on the track of the woman--and the police dogging his heels (they didn't quite believe he was telling all he knew...).
Then a second murder occurs and it just so happens that the lovely lady was on her way to the very town where it happened. Is she really innocent? Why won't she confide in the police--or in Temperley when he finally catches up to here? What does she know and what is she so afraid of? And what does the Z represent? Temperley will find these answers when he gets on the trail of a particularly evil serial killer.
I am in two minds about this mystery by Farjeon. On the one hand, it's an interesting early example of the serial killer in the Golden Age. And I quite enjoyed the cross-country chase--particularly when Temperley and Miss Wynne (our lovely heroine) convince the cabbie to drove them 150 miles or so. And the poor thing gets chloroformed and then drugged into the bargain. It makes for a fun thriller with high adventure, though I didn't find it as engaging as Thirteen Guests or Mystery in White. But the ending is rushed and things aren't really explained clearly. Oh, one gets an idea of what is driving our murderer and the circumstances leading up to his rampage--but a real explanation? No. I mean our murderer doesn't even get a real name (nor do a couple of other characters). And, our hero falls madly in love even more quickly than usually happens in these GAD mysteries with a bit of romance thrown in.
Suggested for those who like thrills and adventure in their mysteries without needing every little thing explained clearly. Overall, a fun read. ★★★
First line: Places, like people, have varying moods, and the moods of London are legion.
"Of course, you're going to Bristol," he censored himself. "You're next door to in love, aren't you, and when a fellow's in that condition he does any fool thing. There's a taxi. For goodness' sake, stop thinking, and call it!" [Richard Temperley to self; p. 83]
Last lines: And so life mingled with death, and light threaded its way through the shadows. And so, in this world of strange complexities, it will always be.
Deaths = three shot (actually five--but Farjeon refused to give "the Countryman" and "the Man with No Hands" actual names; also Ledlow dies, but we aren't told exactly how)