Blogiversary: 4 Years Old

Today I can’t help but be a little self-indulgent as it marks the fourth anniversary of my starting this blog. A lot has changed over the years – my average post length has nearly doubled for one thing – but one thing that has stayed the same is my love of mysteries. If anything it has deepened as I have read more widely and discovered new authors and sub-genres of mystery and crime fiction that I never knew existed.

Thanks to all who share their thoughts, book recommendations and to those who have shared and linked to my posts. That has truly been the most rewarding part of book blogging and it’s what always pulls me back when I hit a reading slump or when real life responsibilities have had to take precedence. I appreciate your friendship and support and, as always, thank you for making this hobby so special to me.

Now that I’ve got the sentimental stuff out of the way, let’s move on to the other aspects of the blogiversary post. Each year I have made promises to myself about the things I have hoped to do in the year to come.

Last year I noted that I had just done a big redesign and so didn’t expect to make any further structural changes (that prediction failed – I did a redesign a month or so ago when I accidentally selected a different theme while experimenting in the WordPress customizer). Accordingly, I aimed to make smaller, achievable commitments.

Let’s see how I did:

Create more author guide pages – We’re not getting off to a great start here. This hasn’t happened at all (I may possibly have done Carr since then but that’s about it). The one thing in my defense is that I did revamp the ones I have done a little both in terms of creating new headers to match the revamped design and also getting away from the grid system to provide more detail and quotes from my reviews.

So a bit of a miss here but I have a pretty clear idea these days on what I want those pages to look like. Perhaps one for a year or two down the line when I’ll have read enough to properly realize some of those big ideas!

Write more Five To Try posts – I didn’t do brilliantly with this one either, though I created a bunch of header images and have a document where I list different books I would select for each. I am happy with the ones I did do though (Theatrical Mysteries, Hotel Mysteries and Poisoning Mysteries) and I will certainly hope to do more with this in the months to come!

More impossible crimes – Unlike the two previous goals, I did pretty amazingly with this one. This past year has seen me do more impossible crimes than anything else on my blog. This was helped by a spell of three months where I reviewed a different impossible crime novel each Monday (and often added a second one midweek). I enjoyed that ‘season’ of reviews and plan to repeat it again at some point in the New Year.

So, overall not a great year for meeting my goals but while I may have whiffed at several of these promises to myself, I feel pretty happy with the overall direction that the blog has taken.

A little over a month ago I posted my 450th book review and it seems quite possible that I will reach 500 around the New Year. I already have some ideas in mind for what I will want that book to be and am looking forward to blogging about mystery fiction for many more years to come…

As I always like to note when I make these Five to Try lists, I am not suggesting that the five titles I pick are the five best books I have read but rather than they are five titles that I think are deserving of some additional attention. I wanted to select the five titles I have read this past year that have really stood out for me as doing something unusual or unexpected.

The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun

The Disaster Tourist concerns a woman whose career with a tour company that specializes in trips to areas that have experienced natural disasters seems to have deteriorated. After raising a complaint about harassment at work, she goes on a working holiday to evaluate one of their least profitable trips and prepare a proposal for an overhaul. She soon discovers though that the locals have their own plan to restore their profitability…

The book sits on the very edge of the genre as a blend of thriller and satire but I found it to be a really memorable read thanks to the fascinating and provocative questions it poses about the nature of eco-tourism and its dark portrayal of corporate culture.

Such Bright Disguises by Brian Flynn

Such Bright Disguises is an inverted mystery in which a young woman and her lover concoct a plan to murder her husband to allow them to be together.

The structure of the novel is interesting as the first part follows their reaching that decision and carrying out the deed. The second then follows what happens next as we see how their relationship is affected by their actions before a final, quite short part sees our series investigator – Anthony Bathurst – piece everything together.

There is some great character exploration and development but I think what I love most about this story is the conclusion which is fantastic. Easily my favorite Flynn to date (expect more reviews to come in Year Five).

Beast in the Shadows by Edogawa Rampo

A woman approaches a writer of detective fiction, explaining that she has been harassed by a former lover who is sending threatening letters to her, tracking her movements through the family home. He visits her home and makes some unsettling discoveries but concocts a plan to protect her. Things take a turn however when her husband is found dead and the pair worry that she might be next.

Beast in Shadows is a wonderfully creepy and unsettling read. Rampo manages to balance moments of unsettling, chilling horror with telling a carefully constructed story of perverse obsession, cleverly layering some elements of fair play detection beneath those horrific elements. It is a highly successful blend of those styles with each complementing the other, combining to build a cohesive and interesting work.

One bonus is that it is currently available in a double-bill with the pulpy The Black Lizard which is a really entertaining adventure tale.

How to Kidnap the Rich by Rahul Raina

How to Kidnap the Rich is an absolute blast to read. The novel, which blends social satire and a great con game and kidnapping yarn, is an absolutely wild ride that left me drawing comparisons with the work of Jim Thompson. It’s a really sharp and smart read that kept surprising me with each new development.

The characters are superbly drawn and I loved Ramesh, the protagonist, who has a really interesting and cynical narrative voice. I never really wanted him to succeed so much as I wanted to see all the other, terrible people lose and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about those antagonists and seeing what happened to them.

Best of all, rather than fizzling out it builds to a really compelling conclusion that I think fit the tone and the themes of the novel perfectly.

Payment Deferred by C. S. Forester

One of my favorite tropes in inverted mysteries is the murderer who is haunted by his crime. C. S. Forester’s Payment Deferred is a sublime example of that idea as Mr. Marble commits murder, makes a fortune and then finds himself unable to enjoy it as he lives in permanent fear of discovery.

The characterization here is superb and I loved the way the novel explores how Marbles’ new-found wealth affects not only him but the other members of his family. It is all handled extremely thoughtfully and while I felt profoundly sorry for some of those other characters, I think its ending is powerfully and highly effective.

A superb read that I consider one of the best in the inverted mysteries sub-genre.

Looking Ahead To Year Five

Here is the bit of the post where I foolishly set a number of criteria that I will fail to have met in a year’s time. While that may seem like an exercise in frustration, I do think that the process has value in terms of showing where I would like to head in the future.

More Public Domain Mysteries – one of the most-visited pages on this website is the one where I highlight works I have read that are in the public domain in the United States and so can be read for free by many readers. I had created this resource during the early days of the pandemic in a period where buying books might be logistically or financially impossible and while I continue to occasionally add to it, I haven’t read much work lately that would qualify.

While I don’t plan on making a commitment to a weekly read I do want to be mindful about doing at least one a month. I am even toying with the idea of flagging the book I am planning to read in case anyone wants to play along (though that would require me to actually stick to a posting schedule so perhaps not, eh?).

More Themed Mondays – I mentioned above that the Mondays are Impossible feature that I did throughout the Summer was enormously satisfying for me. So was my previous set of Monday posts focused on Japanese mysteries. While I want to be careful to avoid becoming too structured, I did enjoy the idea of doing a series of linked posts and being purposeful about seeking out new writers and authors who would help me achieve that goal. Twitter pals can expect more polls asking for help selecting new reads and themes in the months to come!

Replacing Jonathan Creek – Perhaps the biggest challenge in the months ahead will be figuring out what on earth I will be doing with my Saturday posts. For the past year or so I have been pretty focused on working through the Jonathan Creek series but now that I’ve done them all I find myself left with a void to fill.

Will it be more TV? Perhaps a day to share more long-form writing or a return to Columbo? Or will it perhaps be something else entirely? As of yet I have no firm plans…

So, that’s it for Year Four. Thank you once again for reading my blog and sharing your thoughts and opinions with me. I hope to see you again in Year Five (and beyond)!

Blogiversary: 3 Years Old

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.

Read the review here

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.

Read the review here

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.

Read the review here

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.

Read the review here

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.

Read the review here

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!

Read the review here

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.

Read the review here

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.

Read the review here

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.

Read the review here

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.

Read the review here

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!

Blogiversary: 1 Year Old

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

Mysteries Ahoy! (1)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 LinA Graveyard to Let by Carter DicksonToo Many Magicians by Randall GarrettAll 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.