Review Of The Year – 2017

So, 2017 draws to a close – seven years of the blog and still going strong. And that means it’s time for the Review Of The Year 2017. Not the real 2017, obviously, as that would be far, far too depressing, wherever you live, but the 2017 on In Search Of The Classic Mystery Novel, where I’ve encountered all sorts of mysteries, from the fourteenth century to the present day (and one short story in the future), from murder to… well, murder, both blatant and subtle, solved by policemen, private detectives, and others from all walks of life. And whatever the hell Anthony Bathurst is supposed to be.

So sit back for my review of my reading, with some tips for books you might have missed and some warnings of a couple to avoid. Possibly.

It’s been a year of 164 posts in total, consisting of 124 book reviews (including one audiobook), 6 TV and film reviews, 12 were Puzzlies and the other 21? A guest post, a book extract, a couple of challenges that I’ve either failed to complete or failed to start (sorry, Martin), an updated Carr top ten, some quizzes and puzzles and a couple of semi-serious posts on how to go about how to find books by John Rhode/Miles Burton. And of course, my own investigation into the Curious Case Of The Purloined Blog Posts and its successful resolution. Of the book reviews, they consist of 72 different authors, 3 reference works, 5 collections of short stories (admittedly, one only contained two stories), 64 Golden Age titles, 3 translated titles (well, 3.5 if you count The Realm Of The Impossible) and 11 historical mysteries. Most read authors were Simon Brett and E R Punshon on 3 books each, Paul Doherty and Michael Jecks on 4 books and then… Well, it’s either Miles Burton (5), John Rhode (11) and Brian Flynn (13) or Brian Flynn (13) and John Street with 16. Depends on how you count it. As you may have noticed, Flynn and Street have dominated my reading this year. I know some people get irked when I review books that you don’t have a cat-in-hell’s chance of finding a copy of, but… well, tough, basically. I’ve got a lot to get through – this is the current state of my shelves.

 

Regardless, that’s a lot of reading to get through, so let’s start off with the usual awards.

The “Don’t Do That Again” Award

I’ve mentioned it already, but this goes to the individual who thought it was a brilliant idea to steal garbled versions of my blog posts – see here and here for details. Anyone who experiences the same thing, do give me a shout. And on the offest of off-chance you choose to steal my posts in future, don’t nick my obvious fake covers…

The “Did I Miss Something” Award

This goes to the British Library’s Christmas offering Portrait Of A Murderer by Anne Meredith that just didn’t do anything for me, but I’m reliably informed that everyone else absolutely loves it! So go and read it – the British Library are lovely people after all – and let me know what you think.

The “Plot Hole That’s Really Bothering Me” Award

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Paul Doherty’s Devil’s Wolf, the latest mystery for Sir Hugh Corbett, with a spate of impossible poisonings. I absolutely loved the method, simple and yet, I think, new, but since finishing the book, it’s been bothering me how two of the poisonings occur at the same time. I’ll say no more, but if anyone who reads it can enlighten me…

The “Don’t You Think You Should Mention It In The Blurb” Award

The sleuth in Into The Thinnest Of Air by Simon R Green is an alien who investigates real ghosties, ghoulies and long-leggedety beasties. Not that you can tell from the blurb which implies a spooky but straightforward impossible series of vanishings. And the method for the impossibility… Dr Fell would not approve…

The “Should We Get A Cover Artist Who Can Draw Faces” Award

I picked up a copy of an Edward D Hoch rarity, a couple of short stories that he wrote for kids, The Monkey’s Clue & The Stolen Sapphire with the most bizarre cover. It features a boy and an ape (no, not a monkey) and the ape is the one that looks more human.

The “Oh, It’s Actually Rather Good” Award

I’ve been banging on over the years about how over-rated Murder On The Orient Express is. Well, I finally got round to re-reading it in preparation for not getting round to seeing the film, and it’s rather wonderful. Still prefer Death On The Nile but this is much, much better than I remembered.

The “Did I Miss Something” Award Part 2

The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawu. Just didn’t click for me, but fans of the pure puzzle seem to enjoy it. But despite being a big fan of those early Ellery Queen books, this one just seemed flat and rather dull to me…

The “Most Disappointing Very Good Book” Award

The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz is a really good book, with a clever if slightly off central idea – is the Spielberg story true do you think? – but following Magpie Murders was always going to be difficult. I never really expect this one to scale those heights, and, well, it didn’t. Still a really good read though…

The “Most Variable Author” Award

Francis Beeding, who, after last year enthralling me with Death Walks In Eastrepps and then boring me rigid with The Four Armourers, redeems himself with the outstanding The Norwich Victims, an absolute must-read, even for those of us who don’t like inverted mysteries…

The ”Most Creative Method Of Murder” Award

Beating off stiff competition from the John Rhode with the various methods in Death Sits On The Board, Paul Doherty takes this one for killing Alexander the Great’s chef by replacing a basket of eels with a basket of vipers in The Gates Of Hell. You can guess what happens next…

The “Did I Miss Something” Award Part 3

Diabolic Candelabra from E R Punshon. Perfectly fine, but I didn’t see what all the fuss was about regarding this one. I know people talk about the fairytale atmosphere but it didn’t work for me. Going to give Punshon a rest for a bit, I think.

The “Oddest Title” Award

Honorable mentions to The Sea Mystery (not only a dull title, but most of the book is noticeably landbound) and The Templar, The Queen and Her Lover (as at this stage in history, and in the book, Isabella and Mortimer have barely met, let alone…) but I think I’ll go with Brian Flynn’s Reverse The Charges which is not only dull, but has nothing that I can see to do with the story itself.

The “Why Oh Why Oh Why” Award

The British Library has a superb record of reprinting crime classics. Some of them I liked, some weren’t my cup of tea, but I still admired them. But The Incredible Crime had only one interesting feature, namely being written by a descendant of Jane Austen (the granddaughter of her nephew). As a crime novel, it was truly terrible. The only book of the fifty so far that I would actively recommend avoiding.

So, onto the proper awards…

Author Of The Year

Well, who else could it be for me? I may have read more from John Street/Rhode/Burton, but Brian Flynn has rapidly become one of my favourite Golden Age authors and I hear a whisper that there may be good news on the horizon… But while we wait for that, here’s a picture, possibly the only one on the internet, of the man himself.

Golden Age Mysteries Of The Year

So, so many to choose from, so I’ll stick to one per author – you could do a lot worse than pick up a copy of any of:

If I had to pick one: Tread Softly by Brian Flynn with a truly unique motive that just resonated with me. Absolutely love this book.

Modern Thrillers Of The Year

I do read a few of these, usually being sent them to review, and while most of them are entertaining, a few did stand out beyond the “husband or boyfriend” genre – with having a reasonable proper mystery element as well, namely:

If I had to pick one: A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride, a book I enjoyed from start to finish. A hefty page count that would normally put me off but this one grabbed me from page one and never let me go. An absolute cracker.

Modern Mysteries Of The Year

Books that full-on embraced the classic genre and made no attempt to hide the fact that these were proper classic-style mysteries in exceptionally well-written books.

If I had to pick one: Magpie Murders comes close, but might be a little too meta- for some readers, so I’ll go for Death Knocks Twice by Robert Thorogood, the third Death In Paradise mystery. All three of these titles are must-reads for the mystery fan, resurrecting DI Richard Poole for a few last hurrahs.

Historical Mysteries Of The Year

Book award panels, do take note. History does extend past the beginning of the nineteenth century. It always bugs me when Best Historical Novel goes to something contemporary in setting with Dame Agatha’s writing. Me, I prefer going a bit further back. I’ve been a bit neglectful of this genre this year, but the old reliable authors could always be relied on to produce top notch crime fiction.

If I had to choose one: Tricky one, but The King Of Thieves is such a wonderfully complete novel, with a complex plot and vibrant characters. Good to hear that Michael is finally returning to Simon and Baldwin later this year.

The Grand Puzzly For 2017

In which I take a look at the winners of the Puzzly – my Book of the Month – for the year and decide which one wins the Grand Puzzly.

The candidates were:

Best read of the year… well, it’s Magpie Murders, an outstanding homage to the Golden Age, exactly how re-creating Christie should be done, but with so much trickiness going on, it’s a feast for the armchair sleuth. I feel that I should give A Dark So Deadly an honourable mention though – a very close second. But I simply can’t ignore as my book of the year the book that set me on the hunt for an author that I’d never heard of but has, as you just might have noticed, has rapidly become to me something of an obsession – an author who seemingly vanished without trace but just might be making a reappearance at some point in the future for those who don’t want to get a second mortgage in order to collect him. The Grand Puzzly for 2017 goes to The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye by Brian Flynn, a lively mystery that first brought Anthony Lotherington Bathurst to my attention, a Christmas present for which I will be always grateful.

What are my plans for next year? Well, you’ll just have to come back tomorrow to find out.

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13 comments

  1. ” I know some people get irked when I review books that you don’t have a cat-in-hell’s chance of finding a copy of, but… well, tough, basically.”
    Well, I think that one Pretty Sinister is more than enough. There is no need for two ! 🙂

    Regarding the plot hole in Paul Doherty’s book, both are lodged in the same cell. So what is the problem ?

    Like

  2. Thanks for the summary. I was surprised McCloy’s ‘Mr Splitfoot’ got a recommendation – I seem to recall that it didn’t work for you despite glowing endorsements elsewhere. I’m delighted I managed to get hold of a copy of ‘Tread Softly’ earlier this year, at quite a cost – but I’ll probably kick myself if Flynn does get re-printed shortly! Anyway, am I right in presuming the ‘dodgy’ copy of ‘Robthorne Mystery’ is the one that’s ‘independently published’…?

    Like

    • Mr Splitfoot has grown in my estimation in hindsight. And yes, that Independently Published thing… it’s got an ISBN number, but it can’t be legal. If you’re desperate, just go to the Internet Archive and download it for free, which is presumably what this publisher did…

      Like

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