Review Of The Year – 2014

Another year of In Search Of The Classic Mystery Novel – not quite 100 books this year, unless you count the three Sherlock Holmes audiobooks. Actually, what the hell, given that last year’s book of the year was an audiobook – The Axeman Cometh by Nev Fountain – let’s count them this year as well. So 100 reviews. Hurrah!

So, without further ado, let’s have a look at the highlights (and the occasional lowlight of the year).

Most Reviewed Author

A dead heat here. Strong showings from Kate Ellis (4 books), and Dame Agatha (6 books) but with 8 books each, the most reviewed authors are John Dickson Carr (or Carter Dickson), Paul Doherty (or C L Grace) and Michael Jecks (no pseudonyms that I’m aware of). Of course there are many other authors that I could have read more of if they had such extensive back catalogues.

Best Genre-busting Mystery

I read a couple of oddities this year, such as Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch and London Falling by Paul Cornell, but I the best is easily World Of Trouble by Ben H Winters, the conclusion of The Last Policeman trilogy, which I can’t recommend strongly enough.

Best Re-release

Bello books, an e-book only publisher, have produced a strong line of re-released mystery fiction. They were nice enough to ask me to review the first of Joan Hess’s Claire Molloy series. Cozy but fun, and I loved the second book, The Murder At The Murder At The Mimosa Inn to bits.

Best TV Show

Some disappointments – Death In Paradise was as entertaining as ever, with Kris Marshall fitting seamlessly into the case, but some of the cases were crushingly obvious from the beginning. Jonathan Creek was the worst offender, seemingly a different show altogether than what had gone before and not a change for the better. I’ll probably say Elementary as a mystery show was the most entertaining and pleasantly surprising (although I preferred season one to season two). If you spread the definition of “crime” show a little wider though, then both Arrow and Agents of SHIELD were better, with the the second just edging out the first.

Best New Release

Sorrow Bound by David Mark runs this one a close second, but White Crocodile by K T Medina, her debut novel, takes the crown here. Definitely one to seek out, an atmospheric thriller, and thanks to Sophie from Faber & Faber for asking me to review this one.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year

Not the actual content of The Monogram Murders (although that comes close) but the number of positive reviews praising the return of Poirot while simultaneously demonstrating that they had never read an actual Agatha Christie book before.

The “Still As Rubbish As I Remember” Award

The Crooked Hinge. Still have no idea how this (and The Ten Teacups/Peacock Feathers Murders) make it into that Top Ten Locked Room list…

Nastiest Discovery of the Year

How the plot of The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side was lifted from the tragic life of Gene Tierney, an actress still publicly struggling with those events when the book was published.

Best Joke About Excrement

An odd category, but there are chapters in Mr Monk On Patrol by Lee Goldberg that are basically one long poo joke. And it’s a damn funny poo joke.

Books Of The Year

No Grand Puzzly this year as there were so many near-dead heats that were decided on various criteria and some of those runners-up have stuck with me more than others. So in no particular order, my favourite reads this year were:

Death On The Nile by Agatha Christie

One of the finest detective stories ever written. Nothing else needs to be said.

World of Trouble by Ben H Winters

The triumphant finale to the apocalyptic Last Policeman trilogy – a must read.

My Late Wives by Carter Dickson

The missing body bit is rubbish but the whodunit element here is absolutely first rate. Maybe not the best Carr/Dickson book that I read this year, but the most satisfying and surprising.

Bryant & May and the Memory of Blood by Christopher Fowler

That’s the way to do it! A serial killer with a penchant for Mr Punch matches wits with the Peculiar Crimes Unit.

Sorrow Bound by David Mark

Dark and grim, but well worth your time. Even if you don’t do dark and grim, it’s well worth a look.

Murder In The Afternoon by Frances Brody

The third book in the Kate Shackleton series and the best so far. A complex character-filled between-the-wars mystery. Well worth a look.

The Murder At The Murder At The Mimosa Inn by Joan Hess

Truth and fiction blur as murder strikes at a murder mystery party. Luckily sarcastic sleuth Claire Molloy is in attendance. A real cozy treat.

White Crocodile by K T Medina

Tess Hardy ventures into the minefields of Cambodia, responding to a cry for help from beyond the grave from her murdered husband, only to find a conspiracy that goes far beyond what anyone expected.

The Flesh Tailor by Kate Ellis

Past and present collide again as a respectable doctor is shot dead on his doorstep and someone seems to have been doing some do-it-yourself autopsies. Another strong entry into the Wesley Peterson series, a series that everyone should try.

The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

Tom Thorne is back, but so is his nemesis Stuart Nicklin. Nicklin is clearly playing a game, but withou knowing the rules, can Thorne hope to match him? Much more thriller than mystery but well worth your time.

The Devil In Disguise by Martin Edwards

A startling opening sequence leads into a clever mystery involving a murder/suicide of the chairman of a trust. One of the strongest entries in the Harry Devlin series.

The Sticklepath Strangler by Michael Jecks

Or indeed any of the eight Baldwin and Puttock books that I read this year. Outstandingly well-crafted mystery novels – you can taste the history being brought to life by the vibrant characters.

London Falling by Paul Cornell

A dark supernatural thriller that grips you from page one and never lets go. Not really a mystery, but a damn fine read.

Candle Flame by Paul Doherty

Brother Athelstan investigates another complex mystery in a London on the verge of an uprising. Clever, vivid and absorbing. You could easily replace this one with The Book Of Fires or A Feast Of Poisons in this list.

The Chill by Ross McDonald

A rare excursion into noir territory for me, thanks to a recommendation from Sergio, and a great read with a devastating final twist.

But the title of Book Of The Year goes to… Like This, For Ever by Sharon Bolton

like-this-for-ever-sharon-bolton (1)After the stunning Now You See Me, the first Lacey Flint novel, the second, Dead Scared, was less satisfying for me (partly due to the iffy depiction of Oxbridge life). This was a stunning return to form, with misdirections-a-plenty, an outstanding piece of fiction. And it seems that my readers agree as this is by far the most popular individual review in recent months, still averaging roughly ten visits per day. Read the series in order, but this is the best so far and I’m really looking forward to the next one.

So, that’s four years down – what’s coming next year? More of the same, really, with more from my favourite authors and hopefully a little more new crime fiction. But we’ll see how my mood takes me – never been very good at advance planning…

So thanks for all the comments and likes throughout the year. Hope that I’ve managed to steer you to at least one great read and hope that you keep coming back here. Happy New Year, one and all!

14 comments

  1. A great list chum and lots there that I still plan to follow up on (especially the Ben Winters). So glad you did enjoy THE CHILL (though I would dispute ‘noir’ which implies something deterministic and despairing – hardboiled private yes however). I remain very unconvinced about Joan Hess (and I still say you are wrong about PEACOCK FEATHER 🙂 ) You’ve had a great 2014 and really look forward to see what happens next! All the best to you and Mrs Puzzle Doctor

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  2. A great list! I well remember your glowing review of the Bolton, and you’ve reminded me I really must make room for it!

    All best for 2015. Thanks for enriching my 2014 with this blog.

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  3. I just discovered your site recently and am enjoying it. I like The Crooked Hinge, but agree with you on The Peacock Feather Murders. I’ve read My Late Wives but don’t really remember it, so perhaps I ought to reread it. I know The Chill is generally considered one of Macdonald’s best, but I wasn’t particularly impressed–I guess that’s another one I ought to reread. Thanks!

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    • Youre welcome. You can see the opposing views in Hinge on the review as I knew it was controversial so I asked Sergio to provide a second opinion. I think things swung my way on average in the comments with even the strongest defenders mostly agreeing that the crucial part if the solution is a bit silly. My Late Wives has one of Carr’s best (and fairest) hidden murderers but the mystery of the bodies? That bit’s very weak. Anyway, welcome aboard and there’ll be more Carr in the New Year

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  4. I think Ben H Winter’s trilogy is one of the most original takes in crime fiction. That the third book proved to be the best is a testament to his skill as a writer. He learned how to improve and build on the standard detective novel tropes somewhat awkwardly handled in his first book. These books are one of the rare instances of a trilogy that gets better as it progresses.

    I also read MY LATE WIVES this year and thought the finale to be one of the creepiest of the Merrivale books. Sergio got me to pick up THE CHILL, too. What an ending! Sure fooled me.

    I have you, Steve, to thank for introducing me to Kate Ellis. I just finished her first book in the Joe Plantagenet series (SEEKING THE DEAD). I thought it would incorporate genuine supernatural events and was slightly disappointed to find no real ghosts at all. They are only talked about. Though I didn’t care for her very unoriginal serial killer (who seemed liked he escaped from an episode of DEXTER already on TV for two years at the time Ellis’ book was published in 2008) the introduction of occult elements and the revelation of the Seekers of the Dead, a part of medieval England I knew nothing about, made for another creepy and fascinating read. I may try some of her other books in 2015.

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    • I’ll just say that I thought Seeking The Dead was the weakest of Kate’s books that I’ve read so far – try The Armada Boy, that’s one of my favourites, Glad to know people are enjoying my recommendations. Happy New Year!

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