A train carrying an ill-assorted collection of passengers runs into a snowbank in a fantasy-world 1930s, and—but wait, this isn’t Murder on the Orient Express, though it was originally published only three years later.
When a Christmas Eve blizzard brings their journey from Euston Station to an untimely halt, the passengers—David Carrington and his sister, Lydia; clerk Robert Thomson; chorine Jessie Noyes; Edward Maltby, of the Royal Psychical Society; and an old bore named Hopkins —severally leave their carriage seeking the Hemmersby train station. Hopelessly lost, they’re reunited when they all take refuge in Valley House, a dwelling where the kettle is boiling and the table hospitably set for tea even though the place is deserted. It’s enough to rattle anyone, even before they discover a knife on the kitchen floor. Hopkins, whose unannounced discovery of a corpse in the neighboring train compartment gave him a particularly compelling reason to strike out in the snow, is especially rattled, and his temper doesn’t improve when he learns of a Cockney arrival at Valley House called Smith, who insists he was never on the train even though he drops a ticket to Manchester at Maltby’s feet. It’s Maltby who takes the lead in shepherding his bewildered fellow travelers through an intricate, ingenious, and increasingly improbable series of inferences that end by uncovering a fiendish domestic conspiracy that’s left four homicides in its wake. Both the tale and its cast will have jumped the shark repeatedly and pleasurably, at least for fans of agreeably decorous thrills, by the time Christmas finally dawns.
Farjeon (1883-1955) provides a superior example of the Old Dark House genre, this time with snow, that will remind readers with long memories of his play No. 17, impudently filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1932.