Review of 2020

2020 has been a year for the whole world unlike almost any other in living memory and so before I move onto discussing the most important of the least important things I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to those of you have lost friends and family this year.

I have missed the many day to day interactions of “normal” life but have found great enjoyment and support from doing much more with the GAD blogging community than ever before including an appearance on JJ’s excellent podcast In GAD We Trust to discuss the Father Brown short stories, an in-depth discussion with Brad from ahsweetmysteryblog on After the Funeral, adding new lyrics to an old tune to create A Celebration of Agatha Christie, solving puzzles and creating my own, attending an online Agatha Christie festival, achieving fourth place in a limerick competition, and taking part in the Reprint of the Year Awards.

My personal reading highlights can be summarised as follows:

Favourite New Author of the Year: Despite reading a lot of detective fiction as a teenager and frequenting plenty of secondhand bookshops I never came across any books by John Dickson Carr and one of the greatest pleasures of my return to GAD has been discovering his work. Finding someone who was writing at the same level as Christie and at the time same time and yet doing something completely different has been a joy.






In consecutive months I read The Ten Teacups, The Judas Window, Till Death Do Us Part, and The Reader is Warned – GAD doesn’t get much better than this.







Lockdown has given rise to more Ebay shopping sessions than usual and I now have 48 of his novels – 28 as yet unread!

Flanders and Swann Award for Second Best Country: England is clearly the home of the best classic mysteries but authors from other countries have had a good stab at things.

Honourable mention must go to those from the USA. This year I continued with the works of Ellery Queen and in anticipation of the sadly cancelled Bodies from the Library conference which was to have had an American theme read the first six of Patrick Quentin’s “Puzzle” series, a four novel omnibus of S. S. Van Dine, a trio of Charlie Chan, and a twofer from Roger Scarlett.







However the crown must go to the Japanese Kings of (Shin)/Honkaku beginning with Seishi Yokomizo and then moving onto Soji Shimada and the new generation of writers that followed him.







My series of posts on my eastern adventures can be found here. I look forward to more translations to come from Locked Room International and Pushkin Vertigo.

Lifetime Achievement Award: We are living in a Golden Age of GAD reprints. I have been able to buy new all seven of Christopher St John Sprigg’s detective novels thanks to the British Library, Moonstone Press, Bruin Books, and Valancourt Books. Having a limited output means an author is less likely to write the same thing twice and Sprigg gave us seven distinct books.








I loved the Berkelian conclusion to Fatality in Fleet Street and although the second half of The Corpse with the Sunburned Face adds little to the resolution of the mystery it is probably one of the most bizarre things you will find in 1930s detective fiction.

Surprises of the Year (in order of occurrence):

1. It was clear that JJ was not as enamoured by the Father Brown stories as I was and during our podcast recording his enthusiasm was decreasing with the later stories in my Top 10 and so it was with a feeling of dread that I waited for his verdict on what I expect is very much a love it or hate it story “The Blast of the Book”. He’d played me like a fish and despite a comment that implied he was going to be in the latter camp he was very much in the former!

2. I finally got round to buying the “Bodies from the Library” short story collections containing “Lost Tales of Mystery and Suspense”.  I was slightly put out to find that I already had the very first story of Volume 1 in an omnibus reprinted in 1991!

3. I know in theory that I should never discount anyone from being the murder in a GAD story but in one particular book I felt that for once I was perfectly justified in doing so only for them to be revealed at the end as the guilty party. And that the method was one that I had seen in a Noughties TV programme and been much impressed with and believed then to be an original idea. When detective fiction ceases to amaze me it will be time to stop.

Laugh Out Loud Moments of the Year (in order of occurence): Whilst I loved the very comic Case for Three Detectives I don’t remember actually laughing at it – at least one of the below is not meant to be funny, but they made me laugh:

1. The King is Dead by Ellery Queen – not the solution to the impossible crime but the answer to one particular question because once it was answered it was the only answer that it could be.

2. A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin – at the audacity of one of the characters.

3. The Sinking Admiral by the Detection Club – for events at a funeral.

Best Short Story Award: Unlike last year’s “The House in Goblin Wood”, there is no outstanding contender. I enjoyed “The Velvet Touch” collection by Edward D. Hoch, tales of a thief who only steals objects with no obvious value, particularly “The Theft of the Persian Slipper” and its connection to Sherlock Holmes. The Realm of the Impossible anthology was excellent and whilst not the best mystery, the unsettling “Deadfall ” by Samuel W. Taylor has stayed in my mind more than anything else.







Best Novel Award: From the titles mentioned above it could have been Case for Three Detectives, A Kiss Before Dying, or The Tokyo Zodiac Murders. The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye more than justified the reprinting of the first ten, now twenty, books from Brian Flynn. Cat of Many Tails was a fitting end to the series of Ellery Queen books which began with Calamity Town, and the midway revelation is brilliant and horrific.







One of my nominations for Reprint of the Year, The Red Right Hand by Joel Townsley Rogers, is also an all-time classic of the genre. Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz is an excellent addition to the world of Sherlock Holmes.







However I have to give the prize to Till Death Do Us Part, the reading equivalent of drinking a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster – almost every chapter brings a new revelation and the who, as well as the how, is a complete surprise.








Thanks for reading and commenting during 2020 and I hope 2021 is an improvement for us all.

#61 – The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

A collection of six short stories, the first three longer than the average for Christie.

1. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding – Poirot is tasked with finding a stolen ruby and preventing a foreign royal scandal. This runs along similar lines to one of the earliest and most well known Christmas mysteries. In the Foreword Christie explains that the Christmas Day she describes is based on those of her childhood. A delightful seasonal tale.

2. The Mystery of the Spanish Chest – you might put a body in a chest temporarily but why leave it there overnight to be discovered by your valet? This was a great episode of the David Suchet series and the way it was shown made this one of the most horrifying murders in the series.

3. The Under Dog – Lily Margrave asks Poirot to investigate the murder of Sir Reuben Astwell but tries to put him off at the same time – intrigued Poirot visits “Mon Repos” to disturb the sleeping dogs and flush out the murderer.

4. Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds – in which Poirot gives a killer his just desserts.

5. The Dream – could a recurring suicidal nightmare have caused millionaire Benedict Farley to take his own life? Poirot is not convinced.

6. Greenshaw’s Folly – I expected this to be related to Dead Man’s Folly but later found I was thinking of the homophonic Greenshore Folly so it was a nice surprise to find this was a Miss Marple short story. There are some nice ideas in this and I felt it could easily have been expanded into a novella or even a novel but overall it seemed a bit rushed.

Recurring Character Development

Hercule Poirot

Wears a nightcap.

Is investigating fraud at a large oil corporation before getting involved in (2).

Has met Inspector Miller before (2).

Piles up wooden blocks as an aid to concentration (3).

Has replaced his large turnip-faced watch with a neat wrist-watch (5).

Miss Lemon

Is 48 in (2).

Lived in Croydon Heath at one time.

Signs of the Times

Poirot is offered and accepts “hard sauce” with his plum pudding. I was puzzled by this but found that it is basically brandy butter (1).

In (4) Mr Bonnington says “None of your French kickshaws now. Good well-cooked English food.” Kickshaw, meaning delicacy, is a corruption of the French “quelque chose” which literally just means “something”.

Based on the date quoted in (4) of Thursday 3rd November and the publication date of 1940, this is likely to be set in 1938.

References to previous works

In (2) to a Russian countess (Vera Rossakoff) from The Big Four and other stories.

(2) takes place after Hickory Dickory Dock as Poirot is aware of Miss Lemon’s sister.



Reprint of the Year 2020: The Case of the Baker Street Irregulars (1940) by Anthony Boucher

Metropolis Pictures are adapting “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” for the big screen – surely a cause of rejoicing for Holmesians everywhere – but not when the screenplay is to be written by Stephen Worth, a man described by The Baker Street Irregulars as:

“…the author of many stupid and illogical mystery novels of the type known as hard-boiled and is therefore to be considered as an apostate from the teachings of the Master…(who) has many times expressed in public print his contempt for the exploits of Holmes and his desire to ‘show up that cocky bastard for what he is.'”

To placate the Irregulars, a real-life Holmes fan club, producer F. X. Weinberg invites five of them to act as on-set advisors to “guarantee authenticity and fidelity”(if only the BBC were able to do this!).

However, on their first night together Worth is killed and the Irregulars are the prime suspects – can they use their book learning to solve a real life case? That is when the Adventures begin…

References to the Holmes canon abound although it would take someone more knowledgeable than me to spot them all – this allows the reader to anticipate some minor aspects of the story. I think the only spoiler is for “The Problem of Thor Bridge” – I have seen this story cited in a number of books  and I can’t imagine it being mentioned for any other reason than the one normally cited. There are also codes and ciphers to crack and the reader can definitely have  a go at some of them though you may need “The Return of Sherlock Holmes” collection to hand.

This whizzes along at a quick pace and until it comes to the final accusation and counter accusation. The solution is delivered in a manner that is hugely appropriate for all that has gone before. I hoped to love it and I did. If you’ve not already read it, what are you waiting for! If you already have, get ready to vote!

Boucher himself was a member of the Irregulars and his love for his subject shines through. As well as being a cracking story in its own right, it makes me want to go back to the original source material – something which I will be doing in 2021 thanks to a new set which I got from a charity shop just before Lockdown 2.0 which is much more readable than my massive hardback single volume edition which I normal use as a monitor stand!


Turning Japanese #8: The Decagon House Murders (1987) by Yukito Ayatsuji (translated by Ho-Ling Wong) – WITH SPOILERS

I’d been eagerly anticipating reading this book all year. At the end of 2019 I knew I wanted to get into Japanese mystery fiction and because of the Christie connection had always planned to get a copy of this from the Locked Room International series and then it was announced that the rights had been bought by Pushkin Vertigo but that publication wasn’t due until December 2020.

So instead of starting my eastern adventures with this title, I am ending the year with it instead but my experiences with the 8 books that I have reviewed plus 2 unreviewed titles by Keigo Higashino means this series of posts will definitely continue into 2021.

The back cover tells the reader:

“A Japanese bestseller inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None

and the Prologue:

“He had to kill them in order, one by one. Precisely like that story written by that famous British writer – slowly, one after the other. He would show them. The suffering, the sadness, the pain and terror of death.”

So when a group of students from the K- University Mystery Club head over to a deserted island for a week’s holiday we know where we stand.

I don’t think this actually contains any spoilers for “And Then There Were None” but given this book is an attempt to take that most famous of premises and put a new spin on it, it makes sense to have read it first.

I feel unqualified to give this an objective review, for reasons which will become clear below, but I think this deserves to be read as a companion piece to the World’s Best-Selling Mystery just because Ayatsuji had the chutzpah to attempt it.

And now into my personal reading experience which contains full spoilers.











I noticed that there were a number of different cigarette brands being smoked and smiled at this classic gambit – there would be clues around who had smoked what and when – and then I forgot about it until I re-read the first appearance of certain characters and kicked myself!

I got an idea in my head which although I had looked back on and refuted, still coloured my thinking so that the big reveal was lost on me. Two things came into my mind:

  1. The club nicknames were handed down over time.
  2. The students on the island had no idea why anyone would want to kill them.

Conclusion: It was the previous year’s core group who were responsible for Nakamura Chiori’s death. Their was going to be an ironic undertone in that the killer was taking revenge on the wrong people!

At this point I looked back at some parts of the book and saw that Nakamura “is such an ordinary family name” and that Chiori had only talked to Orczy about her background and asked to keep it a secret. This explained why they hadn’t immediately realised what the motive was -but I still had this idea of the nicknames applying to multiple people.

So when Morisu reveals that his club nickname is “Van Dine” in my mind I said “He’s last year’s Van Dine!” (I hadn’t taken in that it was only Conan who was an ex-member) – also in line with “And Then There Were None” and having read the contents page I wasn’t expecting the truth to be revealed until the Epilogue.

And so through my own stupidity I missed the Oh My Gosh moment! In the next very short chapter we find that only six students had died on Tsunojima but it wasn’t until Morisu says that his uncle owned the Decagon House that I realised there was only one Van!

So I’m still reflecting on what I feel about this book – but there is one thing I definitely don’t buy – that when examining the poisoned coffee cup you would not notice that it had 11 sides rather than 10 as the opposite sides would no longer be parallel and whichever way you held it it would have a point.



Previous posts in this series:

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo

Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada

The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo

The 8 Mansion Murders by Takemaru Abiko

Death in the House of Rain by Szu-Yen Lin

Reprint of the Year 2020: The Red Right Hand (1945) by Joel Townsley Rogers

“Deserves its reputation as one of the best mysteries of all time.” – Publishers Weekly

What has happened to the ugly little auburn-haired red-eyed man who killed Inis St. Erme? What has he done with St. Erme’s right hand? And, more importantly for Dr Henry Riddle, how did he not notice the murderer’s car as it sped past him that night?

Harry Riddle is our narrator and the majority of his tale is notes that he is writing whilst the murderer is still at large and he himself is trying to make sense of the nightmare situation in which he has found himself. The narrative skips backwards and forwards in time, sometimes of events that Riddle has witnessed, sometimes his version of what others have told him, and we gradually learn that more than one crime has been committed that night.

You can’t really vote for this as the reprint of the year if you’ve never read it, so if you haven’t already, get yourself a copy, set aside an evening to read it in (at night in one sitting will give the best atmosphere – a lunchbreak for chicken nuggets and potato waffles probably breaks the spell a little but a dad’s gotta do what a dad’s gotta do) and then come back here to discuss it further.










I had read a couple of reviews of this book in the last few years and therefore knew that it was a well-respected entry in the mystery genre which was a blessing and a curse.

Positively it meant that although the narrator seems to be being set up as one that is not fully reliable, given its reputation this didn’t seem a likely explanation, so at the back of my mind was a constant reassurance that there must be a rational and more than satisfactory solution to the whole thing which indeed there ultimately is.

However it would have been even better not to have known what genre this belonged to – is it a mystery story? Or horror? Or even fantasy? I had the idea after he found his own hat in the road that somehow Riddle would travel back in time and through circumstances become the tramp and end up being forced to commit the crime that he was already aware had happened. I did recognise the Sinister Me when we were given St. Erme’s little used first initial and coupled it with Dexter but had been convinced by the phone call that they were separate people – by this time I was going down the road of it being some sort of metaphor and that the narrative was a representation of something that was real, but was not itself real.

The clues are all there but I was so caught up by the frantic narrative that I wasn’t even looking for any really and there is the repetition of the missing hand: if I wasn’t so fixated on the idea that this had been done by a lunatic then I might have asked why this had been done and come to the same conclusion as Riddle, but I never did.

When it finished I was immediately looking forward to re-reading it one day, this time in the full knowledge of what had happened and being able to pick up on all the little hints along the way.

Thanks for reading – all you need to do now is vote!

#60 – Cat Among the Pigeons

A revolution in the Middle East. A small fortune in diamonds has disappeared. And violent death comes to an exclusive girls’ boarding school.

A number of interested parties, including a department of the British Secret Service, want to find the jewels, and have an idea that they have come to Meadowbank School, but despite their best efforts, can’t find them. Hercule Poirot is unexpectedly brought into the case and it is he who has to find the ruthless cat hiding among the innocent pigeons.

I’d only read this once before and had remembered nothing of it and I don’t think I would have found the killer apart from having seen their name when playing Christie based Sporcle games. Their identity is hidden by a clever device which I don’t think is used enough and deserves to be in a better book.

There are just too many people: Colonel Pikeaway (secret service chief, possibly not his real rank and name, Mr Robinson (international fixer, definitely not his real name), Ronnie/Adam (undercover agent), and then the local police, Poirot himself, not to mention the staff and pupils at the school.

Thinking about it now, it would be a much better book if the secret service had no knowledge of the jewels and that strange things started happening at the school, with Miss Marple brought in by a member of staff or a pupil who happened to be a great-niece. Then the school environment could be properly explored and utilised.

Recurring Character Development

At some point since the ABC Murders he has moved to 228 Whitehouse Mansions.

Met Inspector Kelsey when he was a sergeant working for Chief Inspector Warrender. He also knows Colonel Pikeaway and is aware of Mr Robinson. Knows the Préfet de Police in Geneva.

Signs of the Times

In the café in Ramat, two men are playing tric trac, an alternative name for backgammon.

The Sutcliffes returned from Ramat on the Eastern Queen. There was a boat of this name at the time but it operated between Japan and Australia.

Jennifer loses her mother’s best Jacqmar scarf overboard. Jacqmar was a firm formed in the 1930s by Joseph “Jack” and Mary Lyons who sold fine silk to French fashion houses and realised they could use the offcuts to make scarfs as a sideline.

Inspector Kelsey finds a French copy of Candide “with – er – illustrations. An expensive book”. Miss Bulstrode considers Voltaire’s work of 1759 to be harmless, although she does confiscate some forms of pornography.

Mention is made of Marshall and Snelgrove’s which I guessed was a fictional version of Marks and Spencer’s but there actually was a department store of that name on London’s Oxford Street with branches opened around the country. They merged with Debenhams and were eventually rebranded.

Princess Shaista likes the tennis dress worn by American champion Ruth Allen. There was no such player in that era.

Julia says that Miss Vansittart acts like Miss Bulstrode, and whilst it’s a good copy “it’s rather like Joyce Grenfell or someone doing an imitation”. Grenfell (1910-1979) was a multi-talented performer who included impersonations amongst her repertoire.

References to previous works

Poirot is brought into the case by someone who knows someone was who was involved in Mrs McGinty’s Dead.