I read a number of early 20th century mystery/crime novels while working on my 2011 reading project – 100 years, 100 Books – including such classics such as The 39 Steps by John Buchan and The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne, along with, of course, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.
J. Jefferson Farjeon was a lesser known but still accomplished member of the cadre of writers who produced these early mysteries. The Z Murders follows the typical plot of many mysteries from that era – a dashing, clever man meets a mysterious damsel in distress and attempts to outwit the police and the criminals while embarking on a madcap chase across England. In this instance, Richard Temperley spends most of the book chasing the mysterious Sylvia Wynne, who spends most of the book refusing to explain her predicament to Temperley. A disfigured villain with no arms, plenty of disguises, quaint and trustworthy villagers all combine with the likable Temperley and the reticent Wynne to make a pleasant if somewhat confusing mystery.
The lack of foreshadowing throughout most of book left me fairly unsatisfied and irritated. The reason for the “Z Murders” and the relationship between the two villains is only explained in the last couple of chapters, and not very well. If you really love British mysteries from this era, you’ll like this book well enough, but it’s not one that I’ll remember for very long.