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.