Fans of vintage mystery and crime novels have been spoiled in recent years with a glut of exciting reprints coming out and 2021 was no different. Kate at CrossExaminingCrime noted that there were over a hundred titles reprinted this year and that doesn’t even vintage works making their way into English translation for the first time.
The Reprint of the Year contest, coordinated by Kate, aims to celebrate this and recognize the efforts of publishers to bring classic and lesser-known, perhaps even forgotten, mystery novels back onto our bookshelves. I have been an enthusiastic participant in this process these past few years and was very happy to be asked to share some nominations once again this year.
While I always spend a lot of time mulling over my picks, often second-guessing and changing them right up until the day we post them (Kate – you can expect an email later this week), my first selection has been set in stone since the day I finished reading it. That book, Brian Flynn’s Such Bright Disguises, was an utter delight and stands as one of my favorite reading experiences of the year.
The novel, which is set at Christmas, is an example of the inverted mystery in which the reader knows from an early point in the story who the killer – or in this case, killers – will be. I gather this was one of just a couple of experiments Flynn made with this form which strikes me as a pity because I think he does a really splendid job with it thanks to some smart structural choices and some excellent characterization work.
The first section of the story details how a woman and her lover decide to kill her husband in the hope that this will secure her freedom and their happiness. We follow as we see those resentments build and wait to see what will finally push the pair to decide on such a drastic course of action. Flynn does a marvelous job in those early chapters of exploring each characters’ feelings and motivations. I was particularly struck with how thoughtfully Flynn captures the resentments and desires of Dorothy, the woman at the center of the triangle, and the frankness of its depiction of a crumbling, loveless marriage.
The first section of the book ends with the murder of Dorothy’s husband but rather than limiting us to follow the investigation, the story opens up as we follow the couple and discover just what will happen to them. Those of you who follow my blog will know that I am a huge fan of the inverted-style mystery, so the twists and turns and the intensifying psychological stress that the couple find themselves under in these chapters absolutely captivated me and I was excited to find that I was unsure exactly how things would be resolved.
Towards the end of the novel Flynn makes a final shift in style, introducing some more conventional mystery elements for the reader to solve. It is also at this point that his series sleuth, Anthony Bathurst, makes his brief but meaningful appearance to piece everything together and provide a solution. That explanation is superb, satisfying both in terms of the mystery and also as a piece of human drama. It makes for a great resolution that left me really satisfied. It’s a superb read that I think deserves to be considered among the best that the inverted mystery sub-genre has to offer.
If you haven’t read it yet I hope that you will check it out (as well as the other Brian Flynn stories being republished by Dean Street Press). For more detailed thoughts on this story you can check out my review and be sure to visit CrossExaminingCrime to find out more about the Reprint of the Year awards and to read other nominations. Now I just have to finally settle on my pick for next week…