My 2020 Vision

My apologies for the title, couldn’t resist… but do keep reading to see how you can help me out this year.

So it’s 2020 – the start of my tenth (blimey) year blogging. My blogiversary isn’t until the 20th December, though, so you’ve got plenty of time to save up for that £1200 copy of Brian Flynn’s The Padded Door. But I was looking back at some of those old post and apart from marvelling at how little my writing style has advanced, I was reminded of the point of starting the blog in the first place.

It was to find modern authors who are still utilising the classical crime edicts, namely those of a fairly clued mystery. For example, I read an excellent modern whodunit recently, but at the end of the day, anyone of about five characters could have been the murderer, making it a guessing game rather than a puzzle for the reader. There was sort of a clue… sort of, but it when such a thing is used to justify “oh that’s why you’re trying to kill me” rather than to catch a murderer before they reveal themselves, then I call foul.

Last year, I tackled and completed Bev’s Just The Facts, Ma’am Golden Age Challenge which certainly expanded my reading of Golden Age authors. Now just to be clear, I’m not stopping my frequent trips into the Golden Age – I’ll roughly be alternating old with new – but this year, my Reading Challenge – set by me – is going back to the original point of the blog, to focus on modern books.

So which books have I chosen? Well, I’ve not chosen new releases from 2020. Obviously I’ll be looking at the new releases from, say, Kate Ellis, but there are a number of new and older books from authors that I’ve enjoyed in the past and never went back to. Over to the books in question.

Starting with some historicals. Death and the Chapman by Kate Sedley and An Order For Death by Susanna Gregory are entries from series that I’ve always meant to try. Destroying Angel by S G Maclean and A Bitter Chill by Jane Finnis are the next books in series that I’ve read one or two of and The Seventh Trumpet by Peter Tremayne and The Bishop Must Die are the next books in series that I’ve read a lot of but never visited last year for whatever reason.

 

On to some more recent historicals, in terms of setting at least. The Double A Western Detective Agency by Steve Hockensmith, As If By Magic by Dolores Gordon-Smith, A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee and A Fatal Flaw by Faith Martin are all, again, books from series that I’ve enjoyed and forgotten to go back to. Anthony Horowitz’s The House Of Silk is just a book that I’ve meant to read and Paul Doherty’s The Haunting is a non-series book that I keep forgetting about.

Next up is some easy picks – authors who I’ve read a lot of but not recently. I hadn’t actually realised that I hadn’t read The Dungeon House – sorry, Martin!

More from authors who I’ve enjoyed, some recently, such as Stephanie Marland, some from way back, such as Stuart MacBride, Sharon Bolton and Reginald Hill.

Finally, five books that I feel as if I should have read, and one author that I’ve neglected far too much. The Seven Deaths has had rave reviews, as has I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, a rare foray into true crime for me. Tana French and Peter James are extremely popular in the genre. As for Denzil Meyrick – well, I bought it when on holiday in Oban as a “local author” and then forgot to read it. Finally, Kerry Wilkinson, an author I came across early in the blog can probably claim the “most neglected author” title. I read the first seven books in the Jessica Daniels series, which I really enjoyed, up to 2016 but for some reason haven’t got round to Book Eight. Something to be corrected, methinks.

And here are the covers of the final six books of the challenge. Catchy, aren’t they? Well, it’s over to you to fill them in. Maybe you’re an author who feels that I’ve neglected your work. Maybe you’re a reader who has a first class recommendation for me. Just make sure it’s something from, say, 1990 onwards.

But how should I analyse the classic-mystery-ness? Well, meet the latest innovation to the world of mystery novel blogging – the KNOXOMETER!

You may or may not be aware of Ronald Knox’s Decalogue, his ten rules of mystery writing that all great mysteries should abide by (and which many of the greatest mystery novels ignore). They are, in brief:

  • The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.
  • All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
  • Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
  • No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
  • No Chinaman must figure in the story.
  • No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
  • The detective must not himself commit the crime.
  • The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.
  • The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
  • Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

So, just for a bit of fun, each of these reviews will include a Knoxometer, so I can measure how many of the rules it abided by, so how much of a classic mystery it is. Some of you have asked over the years for scores on my reads – well, here we go… I’m not going to say which rules it breaks, as that puts us into spoiler territory, but it should give an indication at least.

So, do put your book recommendations in the comments below, tweet me @puzzledoctor or yell them at me in the street, on the off-chance… and Happy New Year!

12 comments

  1. Speaking of Knox’s rules, there is an interesting book “Sins For Father Knox” by Josef Skvorecky (translated from the Czech). It contains 10 detective stories featuring a night club singer Eve Adam. Each story violates one of the rules of Knox. Thus the task for the reader is twofold: to determine which rule of Knox has been broken and to identify the murderer. The 10 rules are given at the beginning of the book. In each story, there is a challenge to the reader before the solution is revealed.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The Knoxometer is a fabulous idea! I too have A Necessary Evil on my TBR pile so it will be good to compare notes on this title. As to recommendations I am somewhat timid in suggesting anything by Akunin, given the lead balloon effect it has on had others, but Murder on the Leviathan is his homage to golden age detective fiction. But the first 2-3 books in the Hans Olav Lahlum K2 series are the most GAD-like. Have you tried The Athenian Murders (2000) by Jose Carlos Somoza? I thought that was a very story within a story mystery. Cassandra Clarke is another historical mystery writer, though not sure if she is someone you have tried already.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Charles Finch’s series of Victorian detective Charles Lenox is very well written, humorous and provides interesting details of the time. LJ’s Mystery Reviews – It Is Purely My Opinion gives excellent reviews of the series.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The term Knoxometer is hilarious. I presume that you are not a management consultant or advertising professional, because I did not see a little TM trademark sign following “Knoxometer”.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I too would love to see your take on the Richard Jury series by Martha Grimes or Gregor Demarkian series by Jane Haddam. Purely because it would be interesting to know what you think of them. I don’t know how well they fit into your goal however. Anyway, it will be interesting to see your thoughts on books for this challenge, whatever they are.

    Like

  6. I second Kate’s recommendation of the Hans Olav Lahlum K2 series. You would very much enjoy those books. But I predict you will hate The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. It is a fantasy/sci-fi/surreal gorefest of a murder “mystery” and real rule-breaking genre-blender that ultimately is a hateful book. I enjoyed it until the end, managed to figure out a few of his tricks, but the author reveals his bleak and cynical worldview in an unnecessarily ugly finale.

    Authors you ought to try:

    1. Louise Penny. Her first five books are very much in the GAD style. I think you would like either A FATAL GRACE or RULE AGAINST MURDER …but I think in the UK and Canada those have different titles. One moment… Ah! I was right. They are titled DEAD COLD and THE MURDER STONE. Both are coincidentally very modern impossible crimes that remind me of old 1930s style murder methods.

    2. Bill Pronzini. BLOWBACK, LABYRINTH, HOODWINK, and BONES are some of the best in his “Nameless” private eye series. He does a very good job (sometimes superbly as in HOODWINK) of fair play style plotting. His Quincannon and Carpenter books that he writes with his wife Marcia Muller are good 19th century American period pieces and very much in the GAD tradition.

    3. Fred Vargas. The best are AN UNCERTAIN PLACE and THIS POISON WILL REMAIN. I guess she is a developed taste of sorts. Nevertheless, I love the way she uses random, ostensibly unconnected events and weaves them into an intricately complex plot in which *everything* does in fact connect. The books are surreal in a good way, amusing and witty, and often powerfully moving. She understands the game element of mystery writing more than any other contemporary writer, IMO.

    4. One of the best mystery novels I read published in the past ten years (so very recent for me!) is THE CHANGELING by Victor LaValle (2017), a surprise detective novel. It’s marketed as fantasy/horror but that is a simplistic categorization, somewhat of a misnomer as far as I’m concerned. The sweeping book is part family saga, part modern day fairy tale (the title is a giveaway to that part), and part conspiracy theory satire. Ultimately — and this is the good news — the entire plot is in fact modeled on a detective novel! The thrust of the plot is a search for missing child and wife but there are many mysteries involved along the way. There is a genuine detective mystery plot, loads of detective novel conventions and plotting, and ends with a bang-up surprise finale. I think you should give it a try. Very highly recommended.

    My (probably unwanted) two cents worth on one suggestion: I’d skip Charles Finch if I were you. He can’t plot worth a damn. And the “historical” aspects of his books are totally ersatz. Very handsome photo on his books. I attribute his popularity and his sales to his looks alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m going to be reading The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle as well. It will be interesting to see what we both think of it (and if we hate it as John as predicted you will).

    Like

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