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 “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 “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
- Fatal Dose by Belton Cobb
- Death Of A Frightened Editor and Death And The Professor by E & M A Radford
- The Davidson Case by John Rhode
- Death My Darling Daughters by Jonathan Stagge
- The Platinum Cat by Miles Burton
- The Owner Lies Dead by Tyline Perry
- Bodies From The Library 3 ed. Tony Medawar
- An English Murder by Cyril Hare
- Thou Shell Of Death by Nicholas Blake
Historical Mysteries Of The Year
- Death Comes Hot by Michael Jecks
- Death Of A Shipbuilder by L C Tyler
- Hymn To Murder by Paul Doherty
- The Stone Of Destiny by Paul Doherty
- The Pardoner’s Crime by Keith Moray
Modern* Mysteries Of The Year:
- Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards
- The House Of The Hanged Woman by Kate Ellis
- The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard
- Bryant & May – The Lonely Hour and Bryant & May – Oranges & Lemons by Christopher Fowler
- Hell Bay by Kate Rhodes
- Born In A Burial Gown, Body Breaker & The Curator by M W Craven
- The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
- The Marlow Murder Club by Robert Thorogood
- Dead Man’s Daughter by Roz Watkins
- Fortune Favours The Dead by Stephen Spotswood
- The Smart Woman’s Guide To Murder by Victoria Dowd
* I don’t count twentieth century-set books as historical, btw.
Reference Books Of The Year
- Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Greatest Detective In The World by Mark Aldridge
- The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards
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!