Joseph Jefferson Farjeon

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Joseph Jefferson Farjeon
Born 4 June 1883
Hampstead, London, England
Died 6 June 1955 (aged 72)
Hove, Sussex, England
Occupation Writer, playwright

Joseph Jefferson Farjeon (4 June 1883 – 6 June 1955) was an English crime and mystery novelist, playwright and screenwriter. His father, brother and sister also made names for themselves in literature.


Born in Hampstead, London,[1] Farjeon was the grandson of the American actor Joseph Jefferson, after whom he was named.[2] His parents were Jefferson's daughter Maggie (1853–1935) and Benjamin Farjeon (1838–1903), a prolific Victorian novelist who was born in Whitechapel to an impoverished immigrant family who travelled widely before returning to England in 1868. Joseph Jefferson Farjeon's brothers were Herbert, a dramatist and scholar, and Harry, who became a composer. His sister Eleanor became a renowned children's author.[3] His daughter Joan Jefferson Farjeon (1913–2006) was a scene designer.[4]

Creepy skill[edit]

Farjeon worked for ten years for Amalgamated Press in London before going freelance, sitting nine hours a day at his writing desk.[5] One of Farjeon's best known works was a play, Number 17, which was made into a number of films, including Number Seventeen (1932) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and joined the UK Penguin Crime series as a novel in 1939. He also wrote the screenplay for Michael Powell's My Friend the King (1932) and provided the story for Bernard Vorhaus's The Ghost Camera (1933).[6]

Farjeon's crime novels were admired by Dorothy L. Sayers, who called him "unsurpassed for creepy skill in mysterious adventures."[2] His obituarist in The Times talked of "ingenious and entertaining plots and characterization," while The New York Times, reviewing an early novel, Master Criminal (1924), states that "Mr. Farjeon displays a great deal of knowledge about story-telling... and multiplies the interest of his plot through a terse, telling style and a rigid compression." The Saturday Review of Literature called Death in the Inkwell (1942) an "amusing, satirical, and frequently hair-raising yarn of an author who got dangerously mixed up with his imaginary characters."[7]

Most of Farjeon's works had been forgotten, but the figure of Ben in Number 17 appeared again in a string of novels, including Ben on the Job (1932), reissued in 1955 and 1985. The House Opposite (1931), the first full-length original novel to feature Ben, was reissued under the revived Collins Crime Club imprint in 2015, followed by the seven other "Ben" novels in 2016.

A significant revival of interest in the Golden age of detective fiction had followed the 2014 success of The British Library reissue of Mystery in White: A Christmas Crime Story.[2] There followed two further reissues in 2015: Thirteen Guests and The Z Murders. Mystery in White is also one of at least three of his novels to have appeared in Italian,[8] French, Dutch (Het mysterie in de sneeuw – The Mystery in the Snow), German,[9] Spanish, Polish and Russian.

Seven Dead has been reissued by The British Library (September 2017). The novel sees the return of Detective-Inspector Kendall, first seen, in the words of its central character " the case of the Thirteen Guests. What I liked about him was that he didn't play the violin, or have a wooden leg or anything of that sort. He just got on with it."

Selected works[edit]

Crime fiction and other works[edit]

  • The Master Criminal (London, Brentano's, 1924)
  • The Confusing Friendship (London, Brentano's, 1924)
  • Little Things That Happen (London, Methuen, 1925)
  • Uninvited Guests (London, Brentano's, 1925)
  • No 17 (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1926)
  • At the Green Dragon (London, Harrap, 1926) [US title: The Green Dragon]
  • The Crook's Shadow (London, Harrap, 1927)
  • More Little Happenings (London, Methuen, 1928)
  • The House of Disappearance (New York, A. L. Burt, 1928)
  • Underground (New York, A. L. Burt, 1928) [alternative title: Mystery Underground, 1932]
  • Shadows by the Sea (London, Harrap, 1928)
  • The Appointed Date (London, 1929)
  • The 5:18 Mystery (1929)
  • The Person Called Z (1929)
  • Following Footsteps (1930)
  • The Mystery on the Moor (London, Collins, 1930)
  • The House Opposite (London, Collins, 1931)
  • Murderer's Trail (London, Collins, 1931) [US title: Phantom Fingers]
  • The Z Murders (London, Collins, 1932)
  • Trunk Call (London, Collins, 1932) [US title: The Trunk Call Mystery]
  • Ben Sees It Through (London, Collins, 1932)
  • Sometimes Life's Funny (London, Collins, 1933)
  • The Mystery of the Creek (London, Collins, 1933) [US title: The House on the Marsh]
  • Dead Man's Heath (London, Collins, 1933) [US title: The Mystery of Dead Man's Heath]
  • Old Man Mystery (London, Collins, 1933)
  • Fancy Dress Ball (London, Collins, 1934) [US title: Death in Fancy Dress]
  • The Windmill Mystery (London, Collins, 1934)
  • Sinister Inn (London, Collins, 1934)
  • The Golden Singer (1935)
  • His Lady Secretary (1935)
  • Mountain Mystery (1935)
  • Little God Ben (London, Collins, 1935)
  • Holiday Express (London, Collins, 1935)
  • The Adventure of Edward (1936)
  • Thirteen Guests (London, Collins, 1936)
  • Detective Ben (London, Collins, 1936)
  • Dangerous Beauty (London, Collins, 1936)
  • Yellow Devil (1937)
  • Holiday at Half Mast (London, Collins, 1937)
  • Mystery in White (1937)
  • The Compleat Smuggler (1938)
  • Dark Lady (1938)
  • End of An Author (1938) [US title: Death in the Inkwell, 1942]
  • Seven Dead (1939)
  • Exit John Horton (1939) [US title: Friday the 13th, 1942]
  • Facing Death: Tales Told on a Sinking Raft (1940)
  • Aunt Sunday Sees It Through (1940) [US title: Aunt Sunday Takes Command]
  • Room Number 6 (1941)
  • The Third Victim (1941)
  • The Judge Sums Up (1942)
  • The House of Shadows (1943)
  • Greenmask (1944)
  • Black Castle (1944)
  • Rona Runs Away (1945)
  • The Oval Table (1946)
  • Peril in the Pyrenees (1946)
  • The Works of Smith Minor (1947)
  • Back To Victoria (1947)
  • Benelogues (1948)
  • The Llewellyn Jewel Mystery (1948)
  • Death of a World (1948)
  • The Adventure at Eighty (1948)
  • Prelude To Crime (1948)
  • The Lone House Mystery (1949)
  • The Impossible Guest (1949)
  • The Shadow of Thirteen (1949)
  • The Disappearances of Uncle David (1949)
  • Change With Me (1950)
  • Mother Goes Gay (1950)
  • Cause Unknown (1950)
  • Mystery on Wheels (1951)
  • The House Over the Tunnel (1951)
  • Adventure For Nine (1951)
  • Ben on the Job (1952)
  • Number Nineteen (1952)
  • The Double Crime (1953)
  • The Mystery of the Map (1953)
  • Money Walks (1953)
  • Castle of Fear (1954)
  • Bob Hits the Headlines (1954)
  • The Caravan Adventure (1955)

Under the pseudonym Anthony Swift[edit]

  • Murder at a Police Station (1943)
  • November the Ninth at Kersea (1944)
  • Interrupted Honeymoon (1945)

Short stories[edit]

  • The Tale of A Hat (A Romance of the Thames) Pearson's Magazine issue 172 April 1910
  • Down the Green Stairs and Other Stories (1943)
  • Waiting for the Police and Other Short Stories (1943)
  • The Twist and Other Stories (1944)
  • The Haunted Lake and Other Stories (1945)
  • The Invisible Companion and Other Stories (1946)
  • Midnight Adventure and Other Stories (1946)


  • Number 17 (1926)
  • Enchantment (1927)
  • Philomel (1932)


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c In Edwards's Introduction to the 2014 reissue of Mystery in White. A Christmas Crime Storey (London: British Library, [1937]).
  3. ^ Lewis Melville, "Farjeon, Benjamin Leopold (1838–1903)", rev. William Baker. ODNB, Oxford University Press, 2004 Retrieved 21 November 2014, pay-walled.
  4. ^ Obituary in The Independent, 14 August 2006. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  5. ^ Publisher's biographical note in the Penguin Crime edition of the novelized No. 17.
  6. ^ IMDb. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  7. ^ gadetection site. Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  8. ^ As Sotto la neve Polillo Editore site Retrieved 21 November 2014.
  9. ^ Drei Raben Verlag Retrieved 21 November 2014.

Other sources[edit]

  • Bordman, Gerald Martin. American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1914–1930. Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Krueger, Christine L. Encyclopedia of British Writers, 19th Century. Infobase Publishing, 2003.

External links[edit]