I had most of the last week off so I was looking forward to getting in some solid reading hours. Instead of blitzing through my to read pile though I found myself getting caught up in everything but reading. Whenever I did find time to read I struggled to get engaged with the material I was trying not necessarily because it was bad but just it didn’t fit my mood. This is very frustrating!
On a more positive note I do think I have turned a corner with my reading and I have a few novels I am excited to write about. One of those, Ellen Wilkinson’s The Division Bell Mystery, I had expected to share my thoughts about today but I’m pushing the review back a day to make room for this monthly recap. Expect a review of Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Lucky Legs later this week too.
One other thing this month has in store is my first blogiversary. I plan on recapping the whole year and picking out some favorite titles. While last month may not have been as productive as I had hoped, I am pretty blown away when I look at the list of all of the titles I have read in the last twelve months and I look forward to giving some thought as to which ones to pick as the best of that first year.
Before I get to that though I have to look back at the titles I read in September and pick my Book of the Month. The contenders are:
Detective Fiction: From Victorian Sleuths to the Present (Modern Scholar)
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy
Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Edogawa Rampo
Murder for Lunch by Haughton Murphy
Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston
The Man Who Loved Clouds by Paul Halter
Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Lady Killer by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
Bertie and the Seven Bodies by Peter Lovesey
Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull
Windy City by Hugh Holton
The Department of Dead Ends by Roy Vickers
I suppose the good news is that with a couple of exceptions the books I read in September were of a very high standard. When it comes time to put together that Best of Year One list I wouldn’t be surprised if several of the titles from this month end up in contention.
Several titles were in contention this month but it really came down to a decision between two novellas. Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s Lady Killer is a really striking work that combines elements of social criticism with an excellent mystery story. The story’s heroine is certain that she knows that another passenger plans to kill his wife and yet no one aboard will listen to her including her husband.
What sticks with me most about that story is its powerful ending which provides resolution and yet it isn’t really a return to order or even necessarily justice. Most impressively it convinced me to go out and acquire several other books by the author and I look forward to discovering more of her work in the future.
The other title that grabbed me was also punchy and provocative, though it pushes the envelope even further on presenting us with an unsympathetic protagonist who we know has killed a woman and a very bitter, hard-boiled ending.
Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? was a book that frequently made for uncomfortable reading. It is made all the more powerful by its unusual presentation with sections of the judge’s summation placed between the chapters in a huge typeface and its short, punchy chapters. Even though you see the ending coming it is brutally direct and while there is little mystery here, I think the reader is engaged in a challenge to interpret these characters and understand their relationship and actions.
Both of these works really shook me up and engaged me in their stories and I don’t think you can go wrong with either. In fact, if you loved one I think you are pretty likely to love the other. But I have to pick one and so I settled on Holding’s novel which has the benefit of being able to strike an unexpected note in its conclusion. It was a truly satisfying read and I can’t wait to tackle The Girl Who Had to Die later this month!
Acquisitions: I may not have got around to reviewing as many titles as I had hoped but I did at least manage to pick up a few books that I am bursting with excitement to read. The Niece of Abraham Pein is another mystery by J. H. Wallis. I had devoured several of his novels earlier this year and then hit a brick wall with those available through interlibrary loan so when this cropped up at a relatively affordable price I couldn’t help but snap up a copy.
I also acquired a copy of Leonard Gribble’s The Inverted Crime – a novel that will doubtlessly not be an inverted mystery at all but even if I am disappointed on that front I am excited to try it. I look forward to reviewing these, and many more titles, this coming month.