Today marks the third anniversary of my first post on this blog. That first post was a short (by my standards these days) review of Peter Lovesey’s The Detective Wore Silk Drawers. Since then I have gone through periods of extreme activity, managing for several months to push out almost a post a day, but plenty more fallow months – such as almost exactly a year ago which explains why you will find no second Blogiversary post on here.
In that time my interests as a reader of mystery fiction have changed and I have developed a rather niche interest in the inverted style of crime and detective fiction that I appreciate you all tolerating. That even led me to have the opportunity to chat with fellow blogger Jim on an early episode of In GAD We Trust – an experience that is for me one of the highlights of my time working on this blog.
Back in my first Blogiversary post I made several promises to myself about things I hoped to address over the following year. Given that I have had not one but TWO years to bring these about I have no doubt done really well, right?
Let’s see how I did:
Review all the British Library Crime Classics – I failed. Now, in my defence, the year that followed saw the start of the American Mystery Classics range and I have made a pretty heroic stab at reviewing much of that output but I have little doubt that if anything the percentage of books I have reviewed in this range would be lower today than it was two years ago. Still, this remains a good aspiration to have!
Review more books by women – I am much more pleased with my progress here. In my first year blogging 25% of the books I read were written by women. In the two years that follow it is up to around 45% which is approaching parity and the numbers are even closer when you look only at authors I am reviewing for the first time. These are steps in the right direction – I would like to build on this in the years to come.
Improve the navigation system – This received a full overhaul as did the general look of the site. I have moved away from the categorization system (though you can still click the categories in a blog post itself to see like materials) and created an index where works are listed by author along with several pages devoted to particular authors where I have read a substantial portion of their output.
So one goal clearly met, one mostly met and one I have completely failed on. I will set some fresh goals for year four at the end of the post but first let me share with you ten of the books that have stuck with me most from my second and third years of blogging.
Ten to Try: Years Two and Three
Back when I did my first year’s blogiversary post I noted that it is rather pointless to try and write a ranked top ten list of what I regard as the best books I have read. Not to mention that it wouldn’t be much fun – do you really need to know that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a really good mystery? Probably not.
Instead I want to highlight ten books I have read over the past two years that have stayed with me in different ways.
Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson
This book was my first experience of the writing of Jim Thompson and remains one of my favorites to this day. It is a dark story involving a Texan Sheriff contriving to ensure his reelection by cleaning up the town as he sees it and it blends moments of comedy and horror terrifically well to create a book that really is unlike anything else I have read. It’s a cracking, if sometimes uncomfortable, read with one of the most memorable protagonists I have encountered in crime fiction.
Speak of the Devil by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
This book, set in a hotel on an island which seems to be haunted by the devil, is an absolutely gripping, atmospheric read. Crime fiction expert Martin Edwards recently named Holding one of the ten golden age writers who deserve to be better known and I think this is a great work to pick as a first encounter.
Murder Mansion by James Harold Wallis
While I do not consider myself a book collector, over the past few years I have strived to complete a collection of Wallis’ mystery novels. I have most of them now and have read about half. This one stands out as a favorite (alongside his inverted story The Servant of Death).
A group of distant cousins gather in the home of one of New York’s richest women in the hope of mounting a legal action to inherit her estate. As they wait they begin to be picked off, one by one. Wallis’ style is slow and detailed but this is a really solid piece of puzzle plotting.
A Knife for Harry Dodd by George Bellairs
Bellairs is one of those authors I often find myself returning to when I find myself wanting to be sure of a solid detective story. For that reason he remains one of the most frequently reviewed writers on this blog and of the various titles of his I have read, this is easily my favorite. The story involves a man living in a seaside town who is found to have been stabbed to death. The best thing about this novel is the sensitive and thoughtful character work.
The New Sonia Wayward by Michael Innes
This was the book that taught me to never say never again. Prior to reading this I had two experiences with Innes’ work that I found enormously frustrating. I vowed never to read him again only to find that he had written a few inverted crime stories. That led to me picking up this book in which the protagonist’s crime is impersonating his dead wife to keep her writing career (and his income) going.
In short: this is one of the best examples of the comic inverted tale I have found and one I frequently recommend.
Mask of Betrayal by Maureen O’Brien
This is the second in O’Brien’s Inspector Bright mystery series and, as I note in my review, it really requires the reader to have read the first to get the most from it. The scenario is compelling and plays with one of my favorite setups – a body turning up in a home it should not have had access to.
The character work is exceptional. Which reminds me – I really need to get back to reading this series!
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
A mathematics teacher helps his neighbor cover up the accidental killing of her abusive husband. We follow the police investigation as they try to tie the wife to the crime and follow as the detective and teacher engage in a cleverly constructed cat and mouse game. It’s a great example of a complex and well-plotted novel.
Confessions by Kanae Minato
This is a dark and deeply uncomfortable read but it, perhaps more than any other book on this list, has really stayed with me in the months since I first read it. The book is told in the second person with a number of characters directly addressing the reader as different audiences. Each new confession throws light on the events we have already learned about.
The book’s discussion of the nature of guilt and the attempts to identify what were the causes of the senseless and horrific murder of a very young girl are very thoughtful, even if ultimately the reader is likely to be disgusted with everyone.
The Red Right Hand by John Townsley Rogers
This trippy book is a delight that blends elements of the thriller and the detective story to great effect. Impressively it is a fair play read, even if it does not seem to be structured as such.
Seven Years of Darkness by You-Jeong Jeong
This book was my most anticipated of 2020 and happily it lived up to my high expectations. Structured as a whydunit, the book finds its protagonist learning more about the events that led up to his father opening the gates to a dam, flooding the workers’ village beneath. What stays with me about this book most of all is my feelings about its characters – both positive and negative.
Looking Ahead to Year Four
My interest in crime fiction remains as strong as ever and I am excited to keep working to expand my coverage of the genre. Having recently redesigned the look and structure of the blog I don’t anticipate any other big changes and my goals are much softer as a result.
Create more author guide pages – I started creating pages dedicated to authors I have covered extensively about a year ago. These can be accessed through the navigation bar at the top and are linked in the Index as well. Some of these need a bit of a tidy to reflect my current style but I would like to create pages for several new authors as well. This will obviously depend on my reading over the next year however.
Write more Five To Try posts – Around a year ago I decided I would offer monthly video content including a series of posts where I would recommend books on a theme – Five to Try. While I had recorded several of these videos I quickly fell behind with editing and this feature basically became a one-off. Still, I like doing these so lately I started writing these as text posts and have really enjoyed the responses and suggestions I have received in return. While I have yet to decide just how often I want to do them, expect to see more in the future!
More impossible crimes – One of the things that has changed in the past couple of years is that the balance of titles I have been reviewing has shifted strongly towards inverted crime stories. There are reasons for this – not least that this is my favorite type of story – but I do feel I have neglected some of the other subgenres I love. Of these, the one I miss most is the impossible crime story so expect to see some more of these cropping up on the blog in the next few months.
Oh, and one more thing…
The final thing I want to say in this rather self-indulgent post is thank you to everyone who has read and commented on posts on this blog. I really appreciate seeing people engage with my posts and share their own thoughts about the books I have been reading. Thank you for making this hobby something I love!