March has been a bit of an atypical month for me – thirteen books in a non-summer month must be something of a record for me. And eight of them were from 1937 as part of Crimes of the Century’s 1937 Book meme over at Past Offences. Not entirely sure why I got so carried away – in part it was realising that I had all three John Rhode titles and didn’t want to monopolise dear old Mr Street. And when I found a cheap copy of the Brian Flynn title from that year, I a) wanted to include that and b) give some other Golden Agers a chance. Probably should have found one author who was completely new to me – Punshon, Marsh, Connington and Bude made up the numbers – but I rather enjoyed this month’s excursion to the past. But there were also some impressive new titles as well. So, which one takes the crown for the Puzzly – my Book Of The Month award – for March 2017?
The books in question were:
Dr Priestley hunts down a serial killer who is picking off the members of the board of directors of an ironmongery firm. Very innovative murder methods and a surprisingly high death count for Rhode.
A new book featuring DS Maeve Kerrigan (a first for me) with a complex tale of a vanishing body. Similar, in some ways, to the last book on this list. Possibly not the best introduction to the lead characters but engrossing enough to make me want to look at an earlier book.
An agreeable enough tale of murder in a square in, yes, Cheltenham, a square populated by archers apparently. You can guess the murder weapon.
The fourth Marnie Rome book, an engrossing thriller with a plot whose bonkersness only really becomes apparent in hindsight. But you could say that about a lot of books these days…
Did Merivale murder his wife in cold blood or kill her by accident in his sleep? Anthony Lotherington Bathurst is tasked to prove his guilt, but finds something much more interesting along the way. Another cracker from my favourite writer that no-one’s heard of.
Some exceptional stupidity from the police doesn’t stop this tale, as much about life in an English village as it is about, um, Death. A minor classic, in my humble opinion.
A lesser outing for Bobby Owen, lacking in any non-Bobby sympathetic characters. Perfectly fine, but there are better books in the series.
An evocative tale of murder and mayhem in the Victorian mental health system. Full of surprises and reversals, it brings the nastiness of the time while never dwelling on it.
For once, I review a book that you can easily find in any bookshop (or Tesco). A clever thriller that keeps the reader guessing with multiple reveals, all the way to the end.
Interesting set-up but drags in the middle – probably the weakest Rhode of the year. He was probably tired as he had already churned out four other books (two as Miles Burton) by this point in 1937.
The honaku school of writing finally makes it to the blog and while it is seriously debatable whether this is a genuine fair play mystery, you can’t deny the effectiveness of this spin on the “seven idiots stuck on an island” tale. A classic read.
Nothing to see here. Move along.
A really pleasant surprise, picked on a 1937 whim and a bit of a cracker. Not remotely humdrum, Julian Symons.
So, what takes the Puzzly? Definitely a tricky choice. All of the new novels have their strengths, with Dark Asylum and Sometimes I Lie edging it (just) – the more I think of it, I’m not picking Decagon due to false advertising. It’s a cracking read, but it’s not a fair play tale. And with so many good books to choose from, I’ll use any nitpick to whittle the list down. As for the classics, the first two Rhode books, Tread Softly, and, slightly to my surprise, A Minor Operation all are in the running. So only six books to choose from…
OK, it’s a day since I wrote the last paragraph and I’m still not convinced as to which book was the best… But instead I’m going to go for the book that really clicked with me. There’s something about that this one that I just can’t mention as it would be a massive spoiler. But it resonated with me and gave things a feeling of reality often missing from books in this era. Apologies for people who want to read it – there are copies out there, but not cheap ones, but hopefully this might inspire publishers to seek out the rights to Brian Flynn. The Puzzly goes to Tread Softly – but most of these are worth a look.
Next month, I doubt I’ll repeat the single year obsession, but there are a bunch of new books on the way. Enjoy.