June 2018 in Review

Are we really halfway through 2018 already? It seems hard to believe but here we are. The good news from my perspective is that I have already marked 35 of the 48 categories off my Vintage Mysteries Challenge scorecard but I am finding that it is getting harder to just stumble onto titles that will qualify. No doubt I am going to have to do a little more planning if I am to check off some of these.

June turned out to be another solid month in terms of my reading. I had worried that the World Cup might get in the way of my finding the time to sit down with a book and I will admit that my reviews became a little more erratically timed but somehow it all worked out.

The books I read in June were:

A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto
Once Off Guard by J. H. Wallis
From Doon With Death by Ruth Rendell
The Lake House by John Rhode
Santa Fe Mourning by Amanda Allen
Moscow Noir edited by Natalia Smirnova and Julia Goumen
Calamity at Harwood by George Bellairs
The Gravedigger’s Bread by Frédéric Dard
The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill
Death in the House of Rain by Szu-Yen Lin
Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville
To Wake the Dead by John Dickson Carr
Athenian Blues by Pol Koutsakis

One of the first things I notice looking at that list is that I read more hard-boiled and noir material this month than usual. With the exception of the short story collection, Moscow Noir, I was pleasantly surprised just how much I enjoyed these works and while I had some discomfort with the presentation of domestic abuse in The Gravedigger’s Bread, I did fine plenty to admire in the construction of that story. Meanwhile I was very impressed with Pol Koutsakis’ nods to classic noir style in Athenian Blues which also features some great character work and discussion of modern Greece.

Death in the House of Rain is a very impressive work from Locked Room International that showcases the author’s inventive plotting while I was very pleased to find that I enjoyed To Wake the Dead more than I had expected based on the reviews I had read. And then there was the really interesting novel A Quiet Place which lacks a great puzzle but makes up for it in fascinating social and cultural observation and with its striking ending.

CoronersLunchAll of those would be strong picks but the one that grabbed me most and immediately sent me off scurrying away to acquire a copy of a sequel was The Coroner’s Lunch, a novel set in Laos after its revolution in the seventies. The mystery contains some unorthodox elements, not least the detective’s ability to see the dead, but does it in a way that feels appropriate to the culture while avoiding those visions revealing anything the coroner couldn’t have logically worked out with the information he has.

The characters are rich and splendid while the setting stands out for being so completely different from anything else I have read so far. So it will be my choice this month for Book of the Month and I hope to get tucked into the second volume very soon to find out what will happen to our hero next.

Incidentally, American Amazon Prime and Audible members may be interested to know that an audiobook recording of The Coroner’s Lunch is available to stream for free through Audible Channels at the moment.

Acquisitions: The Woman Who Married a Bear by John Straley, Death-Watch by John Dickson Carr, Most Secret by John Dickson Carr and The Double Alibi by Noel Vindry.

May 2018 in Review

Given how disappointed I felt in many of April’s reads, I was delighted to see my reading fortunes bounce back in a big way this month. For a while I had started to believe that anything I picked up would be worth reading and I found myself getting back into a groove of a book almost every day. I did finally hit some more mediocre fare towards the end of the month but even those each had some rewarding aspect or idea that kept me motivated. In short, picking this month’s Book of the Month is something of a daunting prospect.

But when it comes to Book of the Month, as in Highlander, there can only be one…

The books I read were:

Mystery at Olympia by John Rhode
Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles
The Frangipani Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu
The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull
Prague Noir edited by Pavel Mandys
The Box Office Murders by Freeman Wills Crofts
The 8 Mansion Murders by Takemaru Abiko
Bertie and the Tin Man by Peter Lovesey
The Informer by Akimitsu Takagi
The Three Taps by Ronald Knox
Toll the Bell for Murder by George Bellairs
Blood on the Tracks edited by Martin Edwards
Deadly Hall by John Dickson Carr
The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner
The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie

As I look back over that list it strikes me that there are at least a handful of titles there that I think may well be in contention when it comes time to make my list of favorite titles from my first year of blogging.

There are obviously a number of ways I could go with this. If you are looking for the best puzzle, I think The 8 Mansion Murders is a really strong read and while I stumbled on the solution to the first murder early, I think the second one is particularly clever. The most influential read would be Malice Aforethought, a title that inspired the funniest read of the month, the hilarious The Murder of My Aunt (though actually Bertie and the Tin Man has its moments too on that score).

The Frangipani Tree Mystery had one of my favorite settings of the month and I am excited to check out the second book soon while The Case of the Velvet Claws was one of the most entertaining, page-turning reads I came across. None of these books take home this month’s prize however.

In the end the book I picked is perhaps not the strongest mystery on offer (it’s really more of a suspense story), though I was certainly stumped by its solution, but it was the one that I found most interesting and rewarding. I found it to be quite an intriguing work and enjoyed discussing some of its themes in my review. It reminded me why I love to read international crime fiction because it gives a window into a place and time that I think proves really interesting to explore.

TheInformerSo while I think you can’t really go wrong picking up almost any of the books I read this month, the one that will stick with me most is Akimitsu Takagi’s The Informer if for no other reason than it prompted me to sign up for some Japanese lessons in the hope that I might someday in the very distant future be capable of reading his vast back catalog, next to none of which is available in English.

Acquisitions

Keep It Quiet by Richard Hull, Murder Isn’t Easy by Richard Hull, Death Going Down by Maria Angelica Bosco, Murder in Stained Glass by Margaret Armstrong, The Egyptian Cross Mystery by Ellery Queen, Holy Disorders by Edmund Crispin, Japanese Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Edogawa Rampo, A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto, Ill Met By Moonlight by Leslie Ford, The Gathering Murders by Keith Moray, From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell and The Plumley Inheritance by Christopher Bush.

April 2018 in Review

Generally I don’t dwell too much on personal stuff on the blog but man, April kicked me in the rear. This was the month when my all-too-perceptive toddler realized that the door to her bedroom actually could be opened in the middle of the night or every three minutes after being put to bed until about 3 in the morning for a whole two weeks. And that usually meant I wasn’t falling asleep until 4 or 5.

I have never been more sleep deprived.

Still, somehow, in spite of all of that I managed to do a fair bit of reading and post words about the books I’d read. So there’s that. The thing I am proudest of though is the collaborative, spoiler-filled post I did with JJ at his blog about John Rhode’s Invisible Weapons. It was enormous fun to work on and I have to say he is an absolute pleasure to collaborate with. It was a bright spot in the very rough start to my month.

Turning briefly to the future, later this week I will be celebrating 100 reviews on this blog since it began back in late October last year. If all goes to plan that milestone should fall on Friday so I’ll need to actually figure out what I want to write about. There is a pretty good chance it will be something inverted…

Book of the Month: April 2018

April got off to something of a poor start with a run of disappointing stories. For a while I did wonder if one title would end up walking away with the award this month by default. The good news was that as the month continued the reads improved and I even found a few short story collections that I enjoyed more than I expected.

The eligible titles were:

The Man Who Could Not Shudder by John Dickson Carr
Murder by Formula by J. H. Wallis
Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm by Gil North
The Chief Witness by Herbert Adams
A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee
The Long Arm of the Law edited by Martin Edwards
Come to Paddington Fair by Derek Smith
Closer Than You Know by Brad Parks
Serpents in Eden edited by Martin Edwards
The Case of the Constant Suicides by John Dickson Carr
Abracadaver by Peter Lovesey
Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie

NecessaryEvilAs I said there were very disappointing reads this month but the title that turned it around is also my pick for book of the month. A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee is a fantastic historical mystery that reminds me of what I love about the subgenre – the sense that the author is not just using a period for dressing but is actually wanting to tell a story about that time because they have things to say.

Sam Wyndham and “Surrender-Not” Banerjee are a superb pair of investigators and I think that this mystery gives them more opportunity to show their skills as detectives. I can’t wait for Book Three and I can only hope that there will not be such a long delay between UK and US publication this time.

Acquisitions

I finally am giving into the inevitable and accepting that I should probably stop promising book reviews. After all, I only managed half of the books I mentioned last month and that is actually a pretty successful hit rate for me.

Instead I thought I would give you all updates about some of my acquisitions to give a sense of what my TBR pile is looking like these days. Almost all purchases are ebook or audiobook formats and obviously if I’ve already reviewed it then it won’t be listed here. Appearing below is no guarantee that I will ever read or review the book but hey, if you see something in the list that you think I should prioritize (or that you think is really not worth my time) please let me know!

Purchased in April: The Mystery at Stowe by Vernon Loder, The Box Office Murders by Freeman Wills Crofts, The Air Raid Killer by Frank Goldammer, The Frangipani Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu, The Lion and the Rose by Riccardo Bruni, The Case of the Purloined Pyramid by Sean McLachlan, Guardia by Michael Crews, The Mask of Ra by Paul Doherty, The Germanicus Mosaic by Rosemary Rowe, No. 17 by J. Jefferson Farjeon, Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg and Mystery at Olympia by John Rhode.

Most of these are historical mysteries, likely reflecting that I have spent a lot of time playing Assassin’s Creed Origins and listened to a couple of superb Great Courses series on Ancient Greece and Rome that sparked my interest. Of the others I am particularly intrigued by The Frangipani Tree Mystery which is set in interwar Singapore – a country my grandparents lived in for some years (though in the later 40s). I am looking forward to getting stuck into that one in the next few days.

March 2018 in Review

I cut my television service a few years ago so these days I tend to be a little late in discovering new shows, usually coming to them a few seasons in. This month I stumbled onto How To Get Away With Murder and I have been thoroughly enjoying bingeing on the show these past few weeks.

For those who have never seen it, it stars Viola Davis as a law professor who teaches a criminal law class at a prestigious university. Each year she takes on several students to work for her office, gaining practical experience of trying cases. As we see in flash forwards throughout the series, by the end of the semester those students will find themselves disposing of a body of their own.

Throughout the first season the series combines a case of the week plot in which Annalise and her students defend someone accused (and often guilty) of murder and character and plot development that moves the overall story forwards. Most of those individual cases are really good in that first season and some of the twists and turns in the bigger storyline are excellently handled.

The second season is still very good, although I am a little less fond of the case that becomes the focal point of the season, and so far I am really enjoying the third season (I am about three episodes in).

Book of the Month: March 2018

Let’s get to the books. I found some pretty good reads in March and I am very happy to say that I had some genuine competition for the title of Book of the Month. The eligible titles were:

The Secrets of Great Mystery and Suspense Fiction
The Witch of the Low Tide by John Dickson Carr
The Servant of Death by James Harold Wallis
The Affair at Little Wokeham by Freeman Wills Crofts
A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
The Viaduct Murder by Ronald Knox
Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon
The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis
The Case of the Headless Jesuit by George Bellairs
The Phantom Passage by Paul Halter
Death at Breakfast by John Rhode
Diplomat’s Folly by Henry Wade
Death Comes at the End by Agatha Christie

And the winner is…

ServantThe Servant of Death by James Harold Wallis. This novel came as a recommendation from Kate at the excellent blog CrossExaminingCrime as part of her review of Curtis Evans’ book about Todd Downing’s mystery fiction reviews, Clues and Corpses.

It’s another instance of the inverted form mystery but with the rather charming twist that it contains a challenge to the reader in its final pages. Though some of the secondary characters are a little less developed, I thoroughly enjoyed the exploration of the main character.

The Month Ahead

I decided to diverge from quite a few of the promises I made last month. Whoops. Still, one thing you can be sure of is that I will be writing in a generally spoilery fashion about John Rhode’s Invisible Weapons with JJ at his blog, The Invisible Event. I am also pretty confident that I will be reviewing The Man Who Could Not Shudder and J. H. Wallis’ Murder by Formula.

Less reliable promises would include Fire in the ThatchA Necessary Evil and New Graves at Great Norne. At least two of those I have promised (and failed to deliver) before… I should also be tackling another non-series Christie and I have selected Destination Unknown.

February 2018 in Review

Boy, February did not go at all to plan but that’s okay.

Every month I like to spend an hour or so pottering around with my Google Calendar, putting down titles I plan on reviewing and the dates I expect to finish them on. It is really just an outline for what I think I would enjoy and I feel free to deviate from it when I find myself chasing a whim or a recommended book from another blogger but it does give my efforts some structure.

I think the longest I have managed to stick with the schedule has been about seven consecutive posts but this month the only post that came out on schedule was The Man in the Brown Suit and seeing as how that was actually originally intended to come out last month, I think it’s honestly a bit of a stretch to include that.

In my defence, it’s not entirely my fault. I had the good fortune to receive a huge stack of vintage mysteries through the library and altered my plans to incorporate those while a few books just really grabbed me and I couldn’t wait to finish them. All of these are good problems to have but it does amuse me a little that I failed so spectacularly to live up to my plans this month.

Book of the Month: February 2018

In February I was all about the vintage mystery. Only two of the books I read, Too Many Magicians and The Demon of Dartmoor were written after 1960 and none were from the twenty first century.

As much as I liked both of those books, my selection this month was a relatively easy task. Those few of you who follow me on Twitter would have seen that I trailed my review with the comment that it may well be my favorite book I have read for the blog so far. The more I think about the book, the more certain I feel of that statement.

Before I reveal the winner, let me refresh you on who the eligible contenders were:

Mystery on Southampton Water by Freeman Wills Crofts
The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie
Death in the Dentist’s Chair by Molly Thynne
Too Many Magicians by Randall Garrett
The Demon of Dartmoor by Paul Halter
Corpse at the Carnival by George Bellairs
Diabolic Candelabra by E R Punshon
Crime on my Hands by George Sanders
A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin
Murder in the Maze by J. J. Connington
The Chinese Puzzle by Miles Burton
The Greek Coffin Mystery by Ellery Queen

KissThe winner is… A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin!

Now, I am hardly alone in praising this book and I do try to avoid picking an obvious choice but I liked this novel so much that it would be hard for me to select anything else. I have said over and over again how much I like inverted form stories and I think this novel puts you in the head of the killer in its first section with incredible effect, delivers a great twist in its second section before building to a really memorable end. In short, it’s a classic and one of the very best books I’ve read.

The Month Ahead

So, in a couple of days time I turn 34 and I had planned that I would celebrate by reviewing a number of books written in 1934. It was a cute idea but the last few weeks have been so crazy-busy that I already know I am too far behind on my reading books I need to send back to make that work.

What you can expect to see in the next few weeks is a review of The Affair at Little Wokeham by Freeman Wills Crofts, The Witch of the Low Tide by John Dickson Carr and of The Phantom Passage by Paul Halter. I plan on also making a tentative first step into the works of Ronald Knox with The Viaduct Murder and I am really looking forward to reading A Necessary Evil by Abir Mukherjee.

January 2018 in Review

I am glad it’ll be February tomorrow. January just seems to have stretched on and on and I’m ready for a new month.

Some of you may have noticed that after several months of a review every weekday, this month that streak broke. I blame Ellery Queen’s The Dutch Shoe Mystery though the acquisition of Assassin’s Creed Origins for my Xbox didn’t help much either. The past couple of days have done a lot to lift my reading spirits – I read great books by Henry Wade and John Bude and I had someone tell me that Family Matters, a book that I am always recommending at work, was a phenomenal read and has made them interested in checking out other GAD titles.

Mission achieved.

Books of the Month: January 2018

I’m going to be honest with you – I found it a lot harder this month to pick a standout book than in the four previous months. There were certainly some titles that I felt were worthy of high praise and one that I feel a close personal bond to (The Priest’s Hat – I am pretty sure I wrote the first detailed English language review of that one) but there was no book that clearly pulled away from the pack in terms of quality. Or was there?

The eligible contenders were:

Oathbreaker by Martin Jensen
Murder Has A Motive by Francis Duncan
The Madman’s Room by Paul Halter
Too Soon to Die by Henry Wade
The Medbury Fort Murder by George Limnelius
The Priest’s Hat by Emilio de Marchi
Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles by A L Herbert
The Dutch Shoe Mystery by Ellery Queen
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
The Problem of the Wire Cage by John Dickson Carr
Tricks of the Trade by Euan B. Pollock
Death Makes A Prophet by John Bude
The Patricide by Kim Ekemar
Blown Away by Clover Tate
The Murdered Banker by Augusto de Angelis
Heir Presumptive by Henry Wade
Dark River Rising by Roger Johns

HeirPresumptiveAnd the winner is… Heir Presumptive which just sneaked into consideration when I read it right at the end of the month.

There is a lot to admire here but what I think impressed me most was the really effective structure. Wade’s story initially seems to be a familiar inverted format and yet by the end it has become something much more clever and unexpected.

It all builds to a wonderful conclusion that, while it didn’t surprise me, felt particularly satisfying because of how well it is executed. When it comes time to write my top ten inverted mysteries list, expect this to be in contention!

The Month Ahead

It turns out that I am really pretty terrible at predicting what I will actually read and talk about more than a week or two down the line so take all of this with a huge pinch of salt. I can say that I am currently reading The Dutch Coffin Mystery (ours is clearly one of those on again, off again relationships) and I have Crofts’ Mystery on Southampton Water by Freeman Wills Crofts on its way.

I aspire to tackle Bats in the Belfry and The Demon of Dartmoor and I fully intend to get around to my next non-series Christie. Beyond that though it’s anyone’s guess…