And so, as it must, 2016 lurches to a close. I’m not going into details about the year itself – just go on the BBC iPlayer and let Charlie Brooker do the job so much better than I ever could. But in a year with a 133 reviews (not quite my record) and a near 50% increase in my visitors (which I reckon is due to the face-lift the blog got early this year to a tile-based format), and, most importantly, the fact that I’ve done it every year since the blog started*, I figure it’s time to take a look at what I’ve read, what you should read out of what I’ve read and what you shouldn’t read out of what I’ve read. Off we go…
Minor awards first of all:
Stupidest Explanation For A Sinister Laughing Shadow:
SPOILER ALERT: A fringe category, true, but The Mystery Of The Laughing Shadow takes this one with the fact that the villain is an Australian and has a kookaburra who keeps returning to him whenever he tries to get rid of it and has a habit of making its trademark laugh whenever the villain is threatening the Three Investigators in a way that he can only be seen in shadow. Whatever. I just love this explanation, dumb even for a kids’ book. But the cover artist clearly didn’t read the book…
The Four Armourers by Francis Beeding – I loved Death Walks In Eastrepps, but this is utter tosh and deathly boring at the same time. And that cover… SIT UP WITH BEEDING! I suppose that might be the only way to get to the end of the book if he comes round your house and doesn’t let you go to bed before he reads it to you.
Biggest Defiance Of Physics:
Death On The Riviera by John Bude is loads of fun, but the villain’s method for something late in the narrative beggars belief. It requires a feat that requires a lot of practice but would be fatal if you get it wrong. So how the @!%$ do you practise it?
Crappest Locked Room Murder:
The Strings Of Death by Oscar de Muriel. A book that really can’t decide what it wants to be, but a locked room that isn’t much better than forgetting about the unlocked window. Fair enough, but don’t sell it as a locked room murder…
Best Treatise On Fingerprint Evidence:
The Red Thumb Mark by R Austen Freeman. Shame that it’s sold as a murder mystery instead, because as that, it falls incredibly short of the target. The debut novel for a classic crime writer and contains everything necessary to keep me away from the author’s work in the future.
Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah would really make more sense if it was called Open Casket… Although H C Bailey’s Slippery Ann comes pretty close. That one’s named after an obscure name for a card game, by the way, so get those dirty thoughts out of your mind…
Best Book by a Fellow Blogger:
OK, there’s only one**, but Sarah Ward’s A Deadly Thaw is always worth another mention.
Best Joke At The Expense Of Ronald Knox:
That section from The Sinking Admiral by the Detection Club. Nice one, Len. I know only a small percentage of the readers are going to get it, but it’s well worth your time reading this post before reading the book. Trust me.
Thank God It Wasn’t The First One:
My first John Rhode/Miles Burton book this year, before my obsession kicked into overdrive, was Early Morning Murder which is bloody awful. Thank goodness I’d already enjoyed The Claverton Affair last year…
Many Thanks To…
Julie Wassmer, Martin Edwards, L C Tyler, Michael Jecks and Paul Doherty, all of whom were willing to do a little interview with me on the blog. Much appreciated, although I’m slightly concerned that Martin thinks I’m stalking him now…
My Favourite Bit Of Trivia:
One for the mathematicians, but if you take the authors that I’ve read this year and work out how many of their books that I’ve read, then every number you get is from the Fibonnacci sequence – 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13… OK, I have to distinguish between “written by Martin Edwards” and “edited by Martin Edwards”, and I’ve treated pseudonyms as different writers, but I still think that’s pretty cool. Which, of course, says a lot about me…
Most Reviewed Authors:
5 Books: Miles Burton and Paul Doherty
8 Books: Michael Jecks
13 Books: John Rhode
No big surprises there, really. My newfound fascination with Rhode/Burton/Street has made me end up with plenty of his books to choose from – and plenty more to track down at if I can find them at affordable prices.
On a serious-ish note, if you have any Rhode books that aren’t listed on my bibliography page that you’d be willing to part with for a tenner or so each, then do get in touch. But don’t bother if you’re the owner of the sole copy of Murder At Lilac Cottage listed on Abebooks – £1600 is a little out of my price range.
Due to all sorts of reasons, I’ve neglected some of the cracking looking releases from both the British Library and Dean St Press, the two main re-releasers of lost classics. Expect that to be rectified in the New Year. But sorry, anyway.
Best TV Show:
Well, I did like the second series of Scream, with some nifty plot developments to explain the ending of series one, but the final reveal was pretty obvious. But for sheer entertainment and clever mysteries, Death In Paradise takes this one. And it’s back next week, over here at least…
Best New Mystery:
Well, I did my top ten earlier in the month, but if I had to pick one, it’s Painkiller by N J Fountain – it’s probably ruined the unreliable narrator genre for me by doing something clever with it – but with an imminent paperback release, you really shouldn’t miss this one.
Best Historical Mystery:
It could easily be a three-way tie between L C Tyler, Michael Jecks and Paul Doherty for The Plague Road, The Death Ship Of Dartmouth and The Great Revolt respectively. But Paul dedicating Dark Serpent to me is pretty good tie-breaker. Len and Mike know what to do to win this one next year… 🙂
Best Classic Mystery:
Well, if you want something that is easy to acquire, then Let Him Lie by Ianthe Jerrold is well worth your time. But as it’s been a bit of a Rhode/Burton year for me, then I’ll go for Peril At Cranbury Hall by John Rhode. Good luck, as ever, finding a copy…
Some Non-Review Posts
Just a few links to some posts that I did concerning some wider aspects of crime fiction – The Mystery Of History; Bodies From The Library 2016; Some thoughts on Bias In Blogging; Parts 1, 2 and 3 of my trawl through medieval-set crime fiction; The ridiculously hard 1000th Post Competition; My Hosting of The Verdict Of Us All – Which Author Will You Never Read. And of course, you, dear reader, helped decide the Best Poirot Novel, Best Marple Novel and Best Non-Poirot, Marple or Ten-People-Stuck-On-An-Island Christie.
And Finally – The Grand Puzzly
The following were winners of my Book of the Month this year – yes, that’s more than twelve, there were a few dead heats:
- Taking Pity and Dead Pretty by David Mark
- Painkiller by N J Fountain
- Bryant & May – Strange Tide by Christopher Fowler
- Rebellion’s Message & The Death Ship Of Dartmouth by Michael Jecks
- Death In Harley Street by John Rhode
- Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard
- The Sinking Admiral by the Detection Club
- White Nights by Ann Cleeves
- Dark Serpent by Paul Doherty
- Peril At Cranbury Hall by John Rhode
- The Plague Road by L C Tyler
- The Seeker by S G Maclean
- A High Mortality Of Doves by Kate Ellis
- Legacy Of Death by Miles Burton
The best of those… well, the odd thing is, those aren’t the best twelvish books reviewed this year, but there were a couple of lean months and a couple absolutely chockful of mystery goodness. But if I had to pick one… Distress Signals comes very close, a classic old-school twisty thriller without the need for an unreliable narrator, even more impressive as it’s Catherine Ryan Howard’s debut. A High Mortality Of Doves comes close as well, a beautifully evocative recreation of the post-WWI era and a devilishly constructed mystery as well, but as I’ve mentioned more than a few times before, the best mystery-thriller that I’ve read this year is N J Fountain’s Painkiller. No surprise to me as N J (aka Nev) was one of the inspirations for the blog with the Mervyn Stone mysteries (which you still need to read, by the way, or listen to, in the case of the unbearably awesome The Axeman Cometh – review here.) Now applying his writing to the serious mainstream thriller, Painkiller is even better than these – a moving thriller with a sympathetic protagonist and plot developments that you won’t see coming. It’s not often that I get the urge to read a book again – but this is already overdue a re-read.
So there we go, 2016 fades into the distance and we’ve got lots to look forward to in 2017. Honest.
*Not actually true as the blog started in December 2010. Needless to say, I didn’t bother with a summary that year.
**Not counting bloggers who started writing first, e.g. Michael Jecks and Martin Edwards.