And so 2015 draws to a close and it must be time for my annual round-up. On the off-chance that you haven’t read and memorised everything that I’ve written over the past year (and why not?), here’s my summary of the multitude of mystery novels of the year, from the few lows to the multitude of highs.
This year – the fifth year of In Search Of The Classic Mystery Novel, there have been 150 reviews – a record for me – along with 50 or so other miscellaneous ramblings. 84 different authors, with more first time authors and Golden Age novels than ever before. Also – a quick thank you here – more books being sent my way by publishers to review that actually fit the blog content (although there was that sex-voodoo-zombie thriller that I turned down. I may be misremembering the exact content…). So, on with the summary.
First off, some odds and sods.
The Oddest Book I’ve Ever Reviewed: The Mystery Writers Of America Cookbook. Need I say more…
The Strangest Job For A Sleuth: Celebrity Pet Chef – Lights, Camera, Murder!
Most Disappointing Behaviour From A Sleuth: Sir Baldwin Furnshill in The Outlaws Of Ennor. He’s still paying for it four books later…
Still Don’t Believe The Author Didn’t Plan It: The priceless explanation of the ending of The Herring Seller’s Apprentice in the sequel Ten Little Herrings that, according to L C Tyler, was only thought up after the first book had been published.
Worst Title For A Good Book: Wobble To Death by Peter Lovesey.
Best Title For A Rubbish Book: Abracadaver by Peter Lovesey.
Worst Anachronism: St Brigid’s Bones for the repeated use of the word “cookie” for a novel set in seventh-century Ireland.
Best Demonstration That Female Detectives Sell Better Than Male Ones: Courtesy of Ann Cleeves – Inspector Ramsay from A Day In The Death Of Dorothea Cassidy being Vera Stanhope (Silent Voices) in all but gender.
Best First Line: A Killing Kindness by Reginald Hill. If you’ve read it, you know why…
Best Last Line: The Masked Man by Paul Doherty. Can’t explain why, for obvious reasons…
Weirdest Psychosis: The bubblegum-phobia from Killing The Beasts by Chris Simms
Best Cure For Insomnia: The Pit-Prop Syndicate by Freeman Wills Crofts. I’d say read it to understand why but I like my readers…
Most Confusing Last Chapter: Bleeding Hooks by Harriet Rutland. So does that mean all of the solution’s wrong, just a bit of it or none of it?
Stupidest Dying Message: Face To Face by Ellery Queen. How Ellery deciphers it (and the subsequent deciphering) is beyond me…
Most Informative Book About Maggots: Time Of Death by Mark Billingham
There’s Something In My Eye: Bryant & May and the Burning Man by Christopher Fowler. Because I definitely wasn’t crying, honest…
Biggest Mystery About The Blog: Not the popularity of the review of The House In Goblin Wood – solved that one. But why is the Miss Marple Top Five post more than twice as popular as the Poirot Top Five post? The working theory is that there are less Marple resources than Poirot ones on the blog but any other suggestions?
Most Reviewed Authors:
5 books: Kate Ellis
9 books: Agatha Christie
Dame Agatha walks off with this one, with Paul Doherty slipping down the rankings for the obvious reason that I’ve read most of his books now! Strong new showing from Len Tyler, basically because I read (almost) everything he’s written this year…
Biggest Disappointment Of The Year
After Dolores Gordon-Smith’s excellent talk on the merits of Freeman Wills Crofts at the Bodies From The Library, the shocking dullness of The Pit-Prop Syndicate just about pips discovering that Paul Doherty didn’t name a murder victim after me in The Herald Of Hell – a very similar name but at best subconscious, according to Paul himself.
Best TV Show
A few possibilities here. Death In Paradise Series 4 was a return to form, plotwise – it’s always been a fun watch, but too many of the Series 3 episodes felt really obvious. I caught the last series of 24 early on in the year, which is utterly ridiculous but great fun at the same time. If you count crime-fighting, Agents of SHIELD, Arrow, Flash and Supergirl are all compulsive watching in the Puzzle Doctor household, but don’t really come under the mystery banner. Scream Queens is still ticking along over here but isn’t really working for me but the similarly titled Scream almost takes the title. Based on the film series, with some genuinely creepy moments and a proper Scooby Doo-whodunit buried under the surface, I’m looking forward to a second season. It’s on Netflix UK if anyone wants to take a look. But the winner has to be the late entry of And Then There Were None. Superior television and true to Dame Agatha’s original dark vision. I’ve a couple of issues with it – see the review – but they’re just niggles really. Let’s hope this means that nobody will mention Partners In Crime again…
Best New Thriller
It seems that I’ve reviewed more and more new fiction via Netgalley and other sources and more often than not, new crime fiction releases are closer to thrillers than to the “classic” mysteries that the blog is (in theory) supposed to be searching for. But I can’t deny that some of those thrillers are damn fine reading – the best of them was easily Sharon Bolton’s Little Black Lies. Bolton is a consistently great author but this non-series novel was utterly breath-taking.
Best Historical Mystery
Given my predilection for the genre, there have been relatively few this year – 18 out of 150 is a pretty low proportion based on previous years. I think the best one that I’ve read was the outstanding Mad Monk Of Gidleigh by Michael Jecks – a chilling tale of tragedy with a central mystery that puts a lot of non-historical mysteries to shame. If you haven’t read Michael’s work yet, you really should. Don’t let the historical setting put you off – this is a cracking series of novels, from which this is one of the best.
Best Classic Mystery
So many to choose from this year, thanks in part to Dean St Press, the British Library and The Murder Room re-issuing more and more lost classics to the public. Here’s to many more in the future! For this year, the highlights for me were The Studio Crime by Ianthe Jerrold, Death Walks In Eastrepps by Francis Beeding, Death Of An Airman by Christopher St John Sprigg and Captain Cut-Throat by John Dickson Carr. But just – and I do mean just – edging it is Knock, Murderer, Knock! by Harriett Rutland. Most other bloggers preferred the second book, Bleeding Hooks, but despite the killer being a bit obvious, I thought this was a highly effective read, both thrilling and funny at the same time.
Best New Mystery
Ugh. Been dreading this one because, for once, there are a number of potential candidates that are next to impossible to separate. First off, there’s the Ethelred and Elsie books from L C Tyler – I only came across these as Len was speaking at the Bodies From The Library conference. They’re something a little different, while still embracing the Golden Age in a massive hug. There’s also the Chef Maurice books by J A Lang – charming, witty mysteries with Christie-esque plots and, as far as I can see, not a negative review in sight. Don’t be put off by the “cozy” label, these books are well worth your time. And there’s also Robert Thorogood’s Death In Paradise books, devilishly plotted mysteries bringing DI Richard Poole back from the dead. And it would be remiss of me to ignore The Herald Of Hell by Paul Doherty – it may be an historical mystery, but it a classic locked room puzzle as well as a gripping historical yarn. But I think the winner has to be The Killing Of Polly Carter, the second Death In Paradise novel, a perfect puzzle that trumps even some of the classics.
The Grand Puzzly
As you may well know, I do a Book Of The Month, also known as The Puzzly, which has the extremely mediocre prize of providing my wallpaper for the following month. So a bit of free advertising, basically. The Grand Puzzly is simply the prize for the best winner of the monthly title. Simple.
The books in question were:
- A Meditation On Murder by Robert Thorogood
- Bryant & May And The Burning Man by Christopher Fowler
- The Masque Of A Murderer by Susanna Calkins
- Chef Maurice And A Spot Of Truffle by J A Lang
- Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton
- In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward
- Child’s Play by Reginald Hill
- The Chessman by Dolores Gordon-Smith
- The Herald Of Hell by Paul Doherty
- Knock, Murderer, Knock! by Harriet Rutland
- Chef Maurice and the Bunny-Boiler Bake Off by J A Lang
- The Killing Of Polly Carter by Robert Thorogood
- Crooked Herring by L C Tyler
So many potential winners there – any of them deserve the title (with the possible exception of Child’s Play – it was a slow month). Seriously, go out and read every single one of them and you’re guaranteed a great read. But I’ve got to pick one – or possibly two for a joint win…
I simply can’t separate the Death In Paradise books from the Chef Maurice books. Both of those books are exactly what the blog was designed to find, current authors that understand how to construct a fairly clued mystery and entertain the readers in the process. So, the Grand Puzzly for 2015 goes to the inseparable The Killing Of Polly Carter and Chef Maurice And The Bunny-Boiler Bake Off. I’ve gone for the third Chef Maurice book simply because of one particular scene – you’ll know the one, where Chef Maurice tries to get into the mind of the murderer in a way that Poirot never would.
A big thank you and a Happy New Year to all of you readers out there – thanks for the kind words and, if you just read and didn’t comment, then thanks for doing that. And if you went out and enjoyed a book based on my bletherings (which I know is true for Chef Maurice) then I’m doing something right. And thank you to the publishers and authors who are nice enough to ask me for a review or who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting or chatting to electronically this year – far too many to list here
So, be back tomorrow for my plans for 2016, along with my shocking New Year Resolution. Dum-dum-dum!