J. Jefferson Farjeon (1883-1955) was an English writer of mysteries and thrillers who claimed descent from Thomas Jefferson. Farjeon wrote more than eighty novels and was much admired by Dorothy L. Sayers. At the Green Dragon was a fairly early work, appearing in 1926.
At the Green Dragon is more thriller than detective story. There is no actual detective, and even though the hero and heroine do stumble upon the truth they can hardly be said to do any serious detecting.
Jim and Joyce Cresswell are a young honeymooning couple (who have in fact eloped as we learn later) make their way to the isolated Green Dragon Inn after a minor car accident. Jim suffers an injury to his leg, not serious but enough to incapacitate him for a few days (and to increase the required level of suspense and terror). They encounter a jovial but inebriated tramp who warns them that the Green Dragon Inn is a place to avoid. The tramp, Alfred, is particularly upset by the dragon on the inn’s sign - he insists that the dragon’s eyes change colour. This will turn out to be an important plot point, and a definite clue.
The inn is deserted and there are signs that the innkeeper must have decamped very hurriedly.
They had earlier encountered a wandering artist who seemed rather interested in the inn. In fact quite a few people are interested in this small and not very distinguished hostelry.
Jim and Joyce realise that there is something rather serious when they find a very large and very valuable ruby in the possession of a dog. Quite a few people are evidently keen to get their hands on the ruby although the young couple have their doubts as to whether of these people have any rightful claim to the jewel. Those who are seeking the ruby are however very determined - sufficiently determined to be carrying revolvers and to be willing to use them. Of course, as you would expect in a book of this type, there is no telephone at the inn and the nearest police station is some miles away and contacting the police would mean running the gauntlet of some rather unfriendly people with guns.
Farjeon throws everything but the kitchen sink into this tale. There’s the inexplicably deserted inn. A fabulous stolen jewel. An enigmatic tramp. A black cat. An inscrutable Chinaman. A hardbitten Australian adventurer. A sinister blind man. A dog that may provide a vital clue. A mysterious ship in a deserted cove. A beautiful, glamorous but evil woman. A heroine in mortal danger. Hypnotism. Oriental poisons. A dragon sign with eyes that periodically change colour. In fact he throws in so many clichés that you can’t help suspecting that it’s all done somewhat tongue-in-cheek. It certainly seems to be intended to be taken as a lighthearted romp rather than anything more serious.
What’s most surprising is that the author manages to tie all these outrageous elements into a coherent plot. When the plot is finally unravelled it turns out to be something of a cliché as well but it’s executed with enough verve and enough confidence that really the clichés just add to the fun.
There’s plenty of breathless excitement and a surprising amount of action (and even a certain amount of gunplay).
The young honeymooners are likeable enough although some readers might grow a little tired of their incessant billing and cooing. Alfred the tramp should be irritating but oddly enough he isn’t.
For readers prepared to accept it as the romantic good-natured lighthearted far-fetched adventure yarn that it is At the Green Dragon should be a rather enjoyable read. I started out being a bit put off by the silliness of the plot but as the story progressed and the silliness level kept increasing it gradually won me over. It certainly has its own charm. Recommended.