Review Of The Year – 2020

So 2020 is over. Now before you charge out into the street to do something desperately unhygienic, please remember that there’s still a pandemic on out there. Be sensible, wear a mask and stay inside with a good book (or a bad one) where possible. Things are still going to be weird for a good time yet, so all we can do is support each other, preferably from at least two metres away.

But let’s look at the good things that happened in 2020. It looks like murder mysteries are on the up. A murder mystery became one of the best-selling hardback books ever! Here’s hoping this trend continues.

The blog seems to be doing OK. My yearly visits pipped 300 000 for the first time, with a steady increase year on year, and it seems that the only countries who are refusing to visit the site are Western Sahara, Niger, Central African Republic, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Oh, and North Korea for obvious reasons.

Anyway, on to my awards for this year’s reading:

The “Misleading Blurb” Award: Has to go to The Christmas Killer with its “Twelve Days, Twelve Murders” tagline, when there’s only three in the whole book. And none of them happen in a pear tree.

The “Was Her Copy Of The Book Missing The Second Half?” Award: Sarah Phelps takes this for her sterling efforts to make up the second half of the plot for the BBC version of The Pale Horse.

The “Did I Read A Different Book?” Award: A few titles can share this – Eight Detectives, Rules For Perfect Murders, Knife Edge, The Split – all books that were perfectly fine reads but most other reviewers just gushed all over them as if they were the best thing since…

The “Not The New Brian Flynn” Award: Well I tried a few out to see if they were worth recommending to Dean Street Press, but I won’t be recommending B G Quin, Hugh Pentecoste, Barbara Worsley-Gough or Ernest McCreary to them (in part as the last two only wrote one book each)

The “At Least It’s A First Edition” Award: Picked up a nice first edition of Carr’s The Ghosts’ High Noon with a DJ. It looks nice, but unfortunately the contents of the book are dreadful.

The “What Was He Thinking?” Award: Belton Cobb, whose earlier works are my new mild obsession, for his very late The Horrible Man In Heron’s Wood involving… no, it’s so badly conceived, I’m not going to mention it again.

The “Best Motive Ever” Award: The appropriately titled An English Murder – wouldn’t work anywhere else…

The “Funniest Motive Ever” Award: The Fortescue Candle by Brian Flynn. Just read it…

The “Unnecessary Way To Murder Someone” Award: Whisky From Small Glasses and no, I’m not going to explain it.

The “Sorry I Took So Long” Award: Should go to Frances Brody or Sarah/Rhiannon Ward, but it took me years to review Martin Edward’s The Golden Age Of Murder, so he can have this one.

The “No, Still Don’t Get It” Award: Should I just award this to Ngaio Marsh in perpetuity? Anyway, Artists In Crime did nothing to convinced me of her merits.

The “You’re Still One Of My Favourites” Award: Really didn’t like Paul Doherty’s The Haunting at all, but Hymn To Murder and The Stone Of Destiny, his new releases this year, were outstanding.

The “The Cumbrian Tourist Board Must Love Him” Award: M W Craven has convinced me there are serial killers and gangsters hiding around every corner in Cumbria with Born In A Burial Gown, Body Breaker and The Curator. See also Stuart MacBride and Aberdeen.

Don’t Believe The Hype

Blurbs, notably the ones claiming the book is “just like Agatha Christie” are really getting on my nerves. I read a few of these, but I’ll name no names, as, well, they weren’t “just like Agatha Christie”. I mean, they had a dead body in them and tended to be set in a holiday resort, but, dear reader, there is more to it than that.

There’s also the “locked room/impossible crime” thing, where it seems that publishers and writers have go it into their heads that this is the same as closed circle of suspects. It also bothers me – this might be a personal one – when the locked room is sold as the central aspect of the book, when it is anything but. Inside Out was a decent thriller, but the locked room aspect was almost inconsequential and rather disappointing.

And don’t get me started on The Book Of Extraordinary Impossible Crimes and Puzzling Deaths

Now on to the best books of the year.

Classic Mysteries Of The Year

Historical Mysteries Of The Year

Modern* Mysteries Of The Year:

* I don’t count twentieth century-set books as historical, btw.

Reference Books Of The Year

Book Of The Year

Crikey, that’s a hard one. Putting aside the obvious ten candidates from Brian Flynn (have I mentioned him yet?), there are loads of other possibilities – basically anything I’ve mentioned above. There are some obvious choices there – Anthony Horowitz, M W Craven, Martin Edwards, etc – but they’ll be topping many other lists.

I’m going to go for a dead heat between two books as I can’t separate them and I haven’t seen that much promotion for them elsewhere – admittedly one of them isn’t out til next week. The reason for picking them is that they are both excellent examples of what my blog is always looking for – a modern mystery with properly Golden Age sensibilities. So my books of the year are The Smart Woman’s Guide To Murder by Victoria Dowd and The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood. Very much looking forward to the next in each of these series.

Right, 2021. Let’s hope things sort themselves out at some point, the sooner the better, obviously. Blogwise, I’m planning, after being inspired by Mark’s book on Poirot, to start a chronological re-reading of the Great Detective, but nothing more structured than that. We should be seeing another ten Brian Flynn books at some point, which I’m especially looking forward to as I haven’t read all of the next ten yet! So there might be some particularly vague introductions this time.

And a quick thank you to all of you, who read my burblings and say nice things about the blog, which is always appreciated (and especially those who say nice things about Brian Flynn). The blog has always been just about keeping track of my reading, first and foremost, but it’s always gratifying to know that I’m not shouting into the darkness.

So, just to finish up with – I know I lost a follower this year due to my political posts (not that I recall writing any) but I’m going to keep hammering one message. Wear a mask, keep your distance, think about other people first and don’t be an arse. Happy New Year!


  1. You really did love The Marlow Murder Club book, didn’t you? I liked the setting, and my son’s school gets more than a passing mention, but I have to admit I found it rather clichéed.


    • Yup, loved the construction and clueing of the mystery, and the characters, especially the vicar’s wife. Preferred it to The Thursday Murder Club because there was too much telling us what happened, rather than letting us work it out. I do take your point, but I thought it rose above the cliche.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Puzzle Doctor – thanks for the 2020 lookback. I continue to find your blog a source of books that I might not otherwise have known.

    For example, your review got my to try the Victoria Dowd (loved it despite initially put off by the silly sounding title). Equally due to your efforts I got to read Tread Softly (excellent) and was introduced both to Belton Cobb’s Fatal Dose (enjoyed that) and to Paul Doherty. I look forward to the Thorogood book when it’s released soon as well.

    Best wishes for a healthy and successful 2021.


  3. Excellent yearly round up! I enjoyed the different categories you used. I have my own choice for the “Did I Read A Different Book?” Award, combined with the don’t believe the hype section. I imagine you could remember which one it is. Suffice to say the book was good, but not that good.
    I am pleased to see Victoria’s book gain joint top position. Now that was a very good read and I am looking forward to reading the second one.
    A Poirot re-read sounds fun. I look forward to watching your progress through that list. Re-reading is something I would like to do more of in 2021, as I stopped doing it so much this year. Some of the re-reading will be Christie but hopefully lots of other GAD authors too that I read pre-blog.


  4. Glad the Stagge is good. The QPQ consortium, of which Stagge is a cadet branch, has been my best GAD discovery of the past few years. But that one is still on the TBR.

    The one that most appeals to me is Mortmain House, since Gallows Court was such fun.


  5. I only discovered this blog in the last few months but have already bookmarked and am really enjoying it! I wanted to ask: have you ever read an author called Charlotte MacLeod? Canadian-American cosy writer who started in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I just started reading my first one of hers and am pleasantly surprised by how funny and well-characterised it is.


  6. Thank you for keeping us all entertained during the year. A great round-up, with some lovely categories. Lots there that I now need to go away and read. And thanks for the mention in the historical section! Happy New Year!


    • Cheers, Len. Looking forward to whatever’s next from you, but fair warning, my resolution is to finally get off my backside and write my great unwritten mystery novel. I can feel all you authors quaking already!


  7. The award categories in the first half of this blog entry are a real hoot!!
    And thanks for another year of valuable input and suggestions on what (not) to read.

    Liked by 1 person

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