As of today this blog is a year old. Yes, a year ago today I posted reviews of Peter Lovesey’s The Detective Wore Silk Drawers and John Bude’s The Cheltenham Square Murder and while I don’t manage two posts a day these days I like to think I am still reading pretty prodigiously.
Time has flown by and I have read and reviewed a lot of great (and not-so-great) mystery novels in that time. 176 novels as well as 3 non-fiction works to be exact, about which I have written a little over 174,000 words.
This is a moment then to pause and reflect, highlight a couple of favorite reads and talk a little about where I want to head in my next year of blogging because, oh yes, I have plans.
Reflecting On Year One
Taking a look over the statistics from my first year of blogging I see some things I am proud of and a few things I’d like to improve.
I was happy that I read a number of mysteries in translation, exposing me to authors from countries such as Japan, Argentina, Greece and Taiwan. I certainly want to continue this next year and take it further by trying some African and South American authors.
While I have my preferences for mysteries from the Golden Age and the inverted form, I did read some more recent works and even learned to like, if not love, a form I have always struggled with – the short story!
On a similar note, while I had some favorite authors I returned to frequently I also discovered a number of brand new writers this year. In fact three of the four authors I read most I tried for the first time this year!
I was less happy about how I did with the gender split of the authors I read and frankly those numbers were looking even worse back when I first started compiling these stats two months ago. My biggest goal for myself for Year Two is to try to seek out and read more works by female writers to try to redress this balance.
Another deficiency I am conscious of is that while I am pleased that I have a good mix of older and newer titles, there are some periods that are just not well-represented. There are only a couple of titles that were written before the mid-20s, nor did I review many books written between 1960 and 1990. That obviously reflects that those are the eras I feel most comfortable in but I think Year Two should see me trying to step a little further outside my comfort zones to try some new writers.
One thing I forgot to stick in the infographic was my top five reviews in terms of views. They were in ascending order: Death in the House of Rain by Szu-Yen Lin, A Graveyard to Let by Carter Dickson, Too Many Magicians by Randall Garrett, All But Impossible by Edward D. Hoch and in first place by quite some way – The 8 Mansion Murders by Takemaru Abiko.
Having gone over some big picture stuff, let me highlight a few of the books I read that I think are particularly deserving of your time.
Ten To Try: Year One
When I first started thinking about my Blogiversary post I jotted down that I wanted to do a Top Ten list and assumed that it would be the work of a few seconds to come up with one. Boy was I wrong. I ended up writing and rewriting my list, getting progressively more frustrated with myself for forgetting such and such a title or not representing a wider range of authors.
I played around with a few alternatives including giving awards for types of books but that didn’t seem much easier so instead I have settled on saying that these are ten books that I found to be really interesting in different ways.
The Master Key by Masako Togawa – Part of the Pushkin Vertigo range, this novel is a fascinating look at the lives of a group of women living in a tower block. Their sense of security and safety disappears when the building’s master key is taken, causing them to worry that their secrets will be revealed. The character work is superb and I found the ending to be quite powerful.
The Priest’s Hat by Emilio de Marchii – I had only recently discovered how much I liked inverted mysteries when I discovered this Italian novel which had been written several decades before R Austin Freeman ‘invented’ the form. The translation is obscure but excellent and while the story is simpler than many later examples, I think the story is told very effectively.
Heir Presumptive by Henry Wade – This inverted mystery by Henry Wade is excellent and easily one of the best examples of the form I have found so far. The idea of a man realizing that he is just a few murders away from inheriting a title and solving his money problems is a great starting point and Wade writes some compelling sequences as he works out how he will dispose of the family members in his way and there is a superb twist towards the end.
A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin – While I couldn’t do a top ten I would have no difficulty selecting this as my Book of the Year. This novel is a classic and makes me wish Levin had written other crime stories. It is broken into three sections which play out in different styles: the first is an inverted mystery, the second a detective story (made possible by the inverted section being from the killer’s perspective and never actually giving us their name or a clear description) and the third is a thriller. The movie is nowhere near as good as the book.
A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee – A superb historical mystery set in India between the two World Wars. I loved the first novel in this series but the second is a superior mystery. On top of delivering a great whodunit, Mukherjee’s text thoughtfully explores aspects of British rule in India without ever feeling like a lecture or polemic.
The End of Andrew Harrison by Freeman Wills Crofts – This locked room mystery set aboard a ship contains a stunning extended sequence in which Inspector French methodically works out how the crime was done through reasoning and careful testing of his hypotheses. The case, with its suggestion of stock market manipulation, feels quite modern while the pacing is refreshingly brisk.
The Bloody Black Flag by Steve Goble – This mystery is one of those which presents you with an unconventional sleuth and rather than forcing you to suspend your disbelief, instead it convinces you that it could work. The main character, Spider John Rush, is a pirate who finds his friend dead with a flask of spirits from an apparent drunken accident yet he knows that the man didn’t drink. The historical setting is superb and I am looking forward to reading the second in the series which is apparently a locked room mystery.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy – A bleak and punchy inverted crime tale about a man who kills his dancing partner during a dance marathon. We begin as the judge passes sentence and the flashbacks are interspersed with sections of the judge’s verdict in enormous type. It is not pleasant and at times quite uncomfortable reading but I found it to be incredibly effective and it has stuck with me in a way that few books do.
The Man Who Loved Clouds by Paul Halter – The most recently translated Halter title is one of my favorites because of its attention to character. There are several small mysteries for the reader to consider that come together to help us understand the dynamics of the village and what is happening to cause people to be blown off the cliffs to their deaths. The ending is superb and I became all the more impressed once I understood how all of the elements came together.
Lady Killer by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding – Clearly there was a bit of a battle for Book of the Month last month as the previous two titles also were reviewed in September. The reason that this title pipped the other two to take the prize was that it is so rich thematically and in terms of its characters, packing a lot into a relatively small page count. It is not just an engaging mystery, it is also a superb piece of social commentary as the main character tries to get someone to take her suggestion that a male passenger is trying to murder his wife. On top of everything, the book contains a truly powerful and effective ending.
The Year Ahead
As anyone who has been anticipating new posts in my Ellery Queen and Agatha Christie reading challenges may have realized, I am not particularly good at following through on promises about what I will read. I am too prone to getting excited about the latest thing to drop onto my TBR pile to diligently stick to any schedule I have made.
Keeping my general unreliability in mind, here are some of the things you can expect to see featured on the blog in the year ahead.
British Library Crime Classics – The British Library range was one of the things that drove me to rediscover my interest in vintage crime fiction and so I am very aware that these are books that definitely raise the profile of this genre. For that reason I want to aim to have every book they have released reviewed, even if that means I will have to read that other Sergeant Cluff novella (maybe that one would be best kept back for Year Three, eh?).
The Other Queens of Crime – In my review of the past year I mentioned that one of the things I found disappointing about my blogging was that I had not read more works by women authors. Part of my plan to rectify that involves reading more works from some of the leading female writers of the Golden Age. I had hoped that I would sneak a Ngaio Marsh title in just before the blogiversary but the timing didn’t quite work out. You can also expect a return to my Christie project before too long.
A Tweaked Navigation System – With a year of blogging under my belt I am aware that there is a lot of content posted here and yet it is not particularly well organized. I have the broad categories on the right but the only way to find a particular review is to use the search bar. I have no idea what a new navigation system will look like but I am sure that you will see me attempt to make some changes in the months ahead.
Lastly, But Most Importantly…
I wanted to say thank you. Whether you are reading or posting comments, thank you for your encouragement and involvement. I have appreciated the fantastic interactions over the past year, made some friends and discovered some wonderful books as a result of you all sharing your thoughts and opinions. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by and read my own thoughts and I hope you will stick around for the year to come.