Review Of The Year – 2021

2021, what a jolly year that was. I’ll be honest, I’m rather impressed that after a few tricky months – a combination of the general crapness of the world in general and some tribulations with work – that I’ve kept the blog up and running with regular posts. Thankfully the second issue seems to be moving the right direction and my one tangle with COVID seems to have left me unscathed – thank you Astra Zeneca!

I’m pleased that my views have continued in their upward trajectory and rather stunned to be honest that I’ve read and reviewed 125 books – 74 classic crime titles and 51 modern novels, so it’s time for the round-up of the year.

Before I start though, a plea to publishers and anyone else with a say in this.

The term “Locked Room Mystery” has long been used to describe mysteries where the crime, on the face of it, is impossible. A dead body found alone, locked from the inside. It is a subgenre of crime fiction that many people are fans of – there are even reference books on the area, one of which I contributed a small section too.

So please, stop using the term to advertise new books that consist of a bunch of people locked in with each other, one of which is a killer. I’ve bought too many books based on this misuse of the term, it’s actually got to the point where I’ve messaged some authors to find out if the book is an actual locked room mystery or not.

It’s not just publishers, some authors use the phrase in their quotes on the covers, so anyone who reads this, please think before describing the book in such terms. Some people have suggested to me that the definition has “changed”. If that is indeed the case – which I don’t believe it has anyway – please change it back.

Right, lecture over. Let’s start with the individual awards.

  • The “Great Title, Rubbish Book” AwardAnd Then There Were Nine by W Lane Crauford, although I suppose it did come before the Christie book got retitled.
  • The “Can’t See What The Fuss Is About” AwardTrial by Fury by Craig Rice. Lots of Rice fans out there, couldn’t see why from this one.
  • The “Oh, Now I Get It” AwardEight Faces At Three by Craig Rice. Going back to the start of the series, and now I definitely want to read more.
  • The “Stop Overselling Things” AwardThe Castaways by Lucy Clarke. It’s a decent enough modern thriller but it really isn’t “the most gripping twisty crime thriller”. Calm down a bit, publishers.
  • The “Really Poor Choice Of Title” AwardNo Fury by Francis Beeding. If you’ve read it, you know why…
  • The “Use A Decent Font” Award – I wasn’t that much of a fan of A Shroud For Rowena, but the large curly font didn’t help.
  • The “First Time I’ve Reviewed Two Books With The Same Title” Award – The Man Who Died Twice by both George Harmon Coxe and Richard Osman, and while I’m probably in the minority, I much preferred the former. Actually, I doubt many people have read the former…
  • The “Second Time I’ve Reviewed Two Book With The Same Title” Award – Midsummer Murder by Cecil M Wills and Clifford Witting. I liked them both, but didn’t love the Witting book as much as some. The Wills title is the best I’ve read from the author – really good.
  • The “That’ll Do Nicely” Award – Bought The Alarm by John Rhode for a fiver, sold it for £200 five days later. Read it between purchase and sale and it’s utter rubbish, by the way.
  • The “Just Reprint It” Award – finally read Death Of Jezebel by Christianna Brand at the British Library and while I think it’s an overcomplicated solution to the impossible crime, it deserves to be read.
  • The “Nazis vs the IRA – Who’d Win?” AwardSergeant Ross In Disguise by Belton Cobb, a book that is both utterly bonkers and utterly mesmerising.
  • The “Yes, That Would Work, Honest…” AwardThe Invisible Host by Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning. A great read, but seriously, how on earth would that have ever worked?
  • The “Spank You Very Much” Award – quite a bit of that going around in my choices of classic mysteries – not by choice. You probably think I’m going to mention The Wychford Poisoning Case by Anthony Berkeley, but even that one is trumped by the ten minute spanking doled out by the Biffer in Octagon House.

So, Books of the Year – in the usual subdivisions.

Classic Crime Of The Year

Historical Mysteries

Modern Crime Of The Year

  • Win by Harlan Coben – the supporting act of the Myron Bolitar series gets his own book, and what a book it is. More thriller than mystery, but utterly mesmerising.
  • The Crooked Shore by Martin Edwards – one of the strongest entries in the Lake District series, a genuine overlap between the classic and the modern.
  • Dead Ground by M W Craven – the latest Washington Poe mystery. What else is there to say?
  • The Supper Club Murders by Victoria Dowd – a proper locked room mystery, a man shot to death by a cannonball while sealed inside a castle gatehouse, with nowhere the cannonball could have been shot from.
  • The Midnight Lock by Jeffery Deaver – the return of Lincoln Rhyme on top form. Enough said.
  • Anthrax Island by D L Marshall – Alistair Maclean collides with John Dickson Carr in a stunning and very effective mash-up. A proper mystery hidden inside an action movie.
  • The Appeal by Janice Hallett – “A modern Agatha Christie” cried The Sunday Times and, just this once, they weren’t far off. As two young lawyers wade through a collection of emails between the primary players leading up to a murder, for unknown reasons, the author plays absolutely fair with the reader while still bamboozling them.

[I should say Robert Thorogood’s The Marlow Murder Club would DEFINITELY be in this list – you work out what it would bump – as it was published this year, but I reviewed it last year.]

Book Of The Year

I wussed out last year and last month (well, yesterday) by dishing out joint awards so I decided that for the Book of the Year 2021, I decided in advance that it would be a single title. And as magnificent as many of the books named above, at the end of the day it comes down to choosing between the December Books of the Month, namely Anthrax Island and The Appeal. So the winner is…

… well, I think it comes down to this. Before reading it, I’d seen lots of coverage for The Appeal, but little for Anthrax Island. Based on this alone, the chance to promote a locked room murder mystery/action movie that readers of the blog might not have heard of, as opposed to a stunningly original fair play mystery that most of my fellow bloggers have already read, the Book of the Year for 2021 goes to D L Marshall for Anthrax Island.

Right, be back next year for… well, more of the same really. Have a great New Year, be nice to people, be thoughtful and stay safe.

Previous Reviews Of The Year

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