100 Book Reviews and Counting… One Year of Blogging

Well, that’s the first year of my blog. The primary aim was always a selfish one – to break the reader’s block I had developed over the past few years – and, with The Ice Princess making it one hundred reviews, I think we can safely say that the block has been overcome. The secondary aim, namely to find and praise current writers who are keeping the mystery genre alive, has ebbed and flowed throughout the year. At times, I’ve been focussing on the Golden Age more than I meant to, hence the Henry Merrivale page and the poor neglected Ellery Queen bibliography, but in recent weeks, at least, I’ve tried to return to the original plan. It’s been ten reviews since I tackled a book by an author who’s no longer writing (Ngaio Marsh’s False Scent).

But what else have we learned over the course of the year?

1. Historical Mysteries

I’ve developed a real taste for the historical mystery over the course of the year. Since my 26th review, Death In The Setting Sun by Deryn Lake, I’ve reviewed a further 38 historical mysteries, initially just searching for a decent one. After finding (and then not returning to) the excellent Ariana Franklin, not to mention a number of authors who didn’t grab my attention, Sergio from Tipping My Fedora, directed me to Paul Doherty. So, just to clarify, those of you who pop over every now and then and think – “Oh no, another Paul Doherty review!” – it’s all his fault! Not mine! If you wanted a count, by the way, 27 out of 100 reviews have been of Dr Doherty’s work. More recently, I’ve tried to branch out a little, with reviews of works by Alys Clare, Michael Jecks, Bernard Knight and Peter Tremayne, and at least two of these names will be appearing again shortly – provided Abebooks delivers what I ordered. Also, Steve Hockensmith will be back soon as well, just as long as Santa puts World’s Greatest Sleuth in my stocking.

2. I’m Not Alone

If you enjoy my ramblings, I recommend checking out some of the other blogs on my Blogroll to the right. In particular, I would like to thank Patrick (At The Scene Of The Crime), TomCat (Detection by Moonlight)  and Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) for some excellent tips on things to read. And if I’ve forgotten anyone else who’s put me on the right track with a writer, please accept my humble apologies.

A big hello, too, to the actual writers who have popped over to say hello – it’s always informative to hear the professional’s point of view. Both Michael Jecks (The Tolls of Death) and Martin Edwards (The Cipher Garden) have dropped by,and Nev Fountain (Geek Tragedy, DVD Extras Include: Murder and Cursed Among Sequels) regularly increases my readership by retweeting my reviews (thanks, Nev!). If you want to follow me on Twitter, by the way, I’m @puzzledoctor.

3. There Are Some Great Books Out There

At this point, you probably expect a top ten books of the year – well, why not? But I would emphasise, these are in no particular order.

The Jackal Man by Kate Ellis

I met Kate– absolutely lovely – at a book signing in Formby and this book, from the Wesley Peterson series, is an absolute cracker. Not sure how many people read the review, as I posted two in the same day, but I’d love to know what other people think of this one.

The Death Maze by Ariana Franklin

My most visited review. I think the late Ariana Franklin has an impressive following and if this book is anything to go by, it is richly deserved.

The Case of the Abominable Snowman by Nicholas Blake

Blake’s books are always a good read, but the mystery in this one is outstanding.

The Fourth Door by Paul Halter

A fascinating recreation of the Golden Age with the author’s own original twists added. The translation seemed a bit iffy at times (Halter writes in French), but it couldn’t mask an excellent book.

The Cipher Garden by Martin Edwards

A modern character-driven crime novel but with a classic mystery at its heart.

The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg

The book that has made me rethink my preconceptions about Scandinavian crime fiction. A genuine surprise.

The Crack In The Lens by Steve Hockensmith

Anything from the Holmes On The Range series is a must-read and this is no exception.

Cursed Among Sequels by Nev Fountain

One of the inspirations (along with Steve Hockensmith) for starting  the blog – a masterclass in how to write a modern crime novel with an involving clever mystery at its heart.

The Nightingale Gallery by Paul Doherty

Obviously couldn’t leave Dr Doherty out of the list – I’d pick this as the best of a very strong field, due to the clever and well-clued locked room. Bloodstone, the new Athelstan, came very close as well.

She Died A Lady by Carter Dickson aka John Dickson Carr

And obviously I couldn’t leave out what I consider to be the master’s masterpiece . A well-constructed impossibility that does not rely on gadgets or bizarre behaviour and, in addition, a story with real heart. A clear contender for the finest mystery ever.

It’s worth pointing out that books I genuinely disliked were few and far between. I’m too much of a gentleman to name the three writers that I will only return to on pain of death, but, gentle reader, I should be most grateful if anyone could recommend something by Edward Marston that they think I would like, based on my reviews of The Nine Giants and The Railway Detective. Both were well written but had weak or non-existent mysteries, and I can’t believe this is always the case for someone with his prolific output.

4. It Doesn’t Stop Here

I’ve really enjoyed blogging over the course of the year. Setting up my various subpages, the sadly-neglected Henry Merrivale and Ellery Queen bibliographies and the ongoing Paul Doherty pages, has been really good fun and I plan on keeping all three going over the course of 2012. I’m going to keep my focus on existing writers – my fellow bloggers mentioned above are much better informed than me on the great unknown writers of the past – but when I do pop back in time, it will be Queen and Dickson who I’ll be stopping at first.

There are also a couple of writers that I’ve neglected over the last year, namely Christopher Fowler (The Bryant & May Series) and Jeffrey Deaver (Lincoln Rhyme, amongst others), both of whom I really enjoy and both of whom have  unread books on my shelf. They should both make an appearance here before the end of January.

Other writers who will be returning, probably in numbers, will be Peter Tremayne, Kate Ellis, Martin Edwards, Michael Jecks, Camilla Lackberg and Ariana Franklin. There’s hopefully another Mervyn Stone book on the way from Nev Fountain and there just might be one or two reviews from Paul Doherty as well – there’s at least thirty more books to go… Now that I’ve broken my Scandinavian duck, I guess I’ll make more of an effort in that direction as well.

By the way, on the off-chance any publishers out there are reading this, I’m more than happy to review anything new. Just drop me a line at puzzledoctor@gmail.com.

And a final word of thanks to Mrs Puzzledoctor, for both her eternal patience and occasional proof-reading.

About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
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5 Responses to 100 Book Reviews and Counting… One Year of Blogging

  1. Patrick says:

    Congratulations, Doc, for reaching this milestone. It is truly an accomplishment worth commemorating! I’ve enjoyed reading your blog ever since Xavier from “At the Villa Rose” pointed it out– keep up the great work.

    Oh, and just to tempt you, Paul Halter has had another translation published, “The 7 Wonders of Crime”. I’m at about the 100 page mark and am loving every moment of it. There’s a brilliant impossible crime right now where a man dies of thirst… right next to a carafe filled with water!!!

  2. Well done mate – by any standard you have had a very good year.

    All the best,
    Sergio

  3. TomCat says:

    Congrats, Doc! You really left your mark on this part of the blogosphere with your infectious reviews of Paul Doherty’s historical novels. I wish I could achieve that effect with some of my favorite, but grossly underappreciated, writers and series. Anyway, keep up the good work and here’s to the next 100 reviews!

    There are two more books by Paul Halter available in English: The Lord of Misrule and a short story collection entitled Night of the Wolf. I wasn’t too impressed with the former, but the latter is really good and has a few genuine gems (e.g. “The Flower Girl”).

  4. I got Night of the Wolf when it came out – I’ll have a hunt for Lord of Misrule and The Seven Wonders… when I have a bit of spare cash. Cheers, guys.

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