Review of 2021

It’s been a year in which I’ve read over one hundred books and yet the size of my TBR pile has hardly changed. My personal reading highlights can be summarised as follows:

Favourite New Author: Erle Stanley Gardner – a couple of years ago I read “The Case of the Borrowed Brunette” and found it merely OK. In the summer I picked up a couple more Perry Masons as they were Green Penguins and found that “The Case of the Lame Canary” was much better. So a couple of months later I bought a Penguin job lot since when I’ve gone through “The Case of the Howling Dog”, “The Case of the Counterfeit Eye”, and “The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat”. It’s not always clear at first what the real mystery is, and it is certainly not obvious a lot of the time why Perry does what he does, but they are a great ride, and everything comes together in the final court showdown.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Rupert Penny – I’d previously read “Sealed Room Murder” and “The Lucky Policeman” and decided to use birthday money to pick up the remaining six books by this author. The acrostic in “Policeman’s Holiday” is a genius idea and executed wonderfully and the subtle simplicity of the locked room solution in “Policeman’s Evidence” is brilliant.

Biggest Disappointment: Max Murray – His first book “The Voice of the Corpse” was a January read and was an early contender for book of the year, and having remembered seeing some positive review of his books I bought a set of four. “No Duty on a Corpse” has characters who just acted in ways that made no sense to me and uses an element that you shouldn’t even re-use in a short story. “The Right Honourable Corpse” was OK but nothing special. “Royal Bed for a Corpse” had a promising first chapter and then descended into a weird spy tale and “Twilight at Dawn” wasn’t even a mystery. I realised too late that I hadn’t seen reviews for these particular but even when I did get hold of “The King and the Corpse” and “The Sunshine Corpse” as Green Penguins, they came nowhere close to his brilliant debut work.

Funniest Book: The Locked Room by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö this is quite a surprise given I read quite a few books by Edmund Crispin this year, but the whole tone of the book is comedic. This is the eighth in a series of ten about Martin Beck, who is a very serious policeman: a locked room mystery is just not supposed to be the type of thing that comes his way and yet it does. The solution, which was new to me when I first read it over ten years fits with the rest of the book and the scene where the police break into a different locked apartment believed to be the hiding place of two armed men is complete slapstick and completely irreverent given what happened to Martin Beck at the end of the previous novel.

Most Shocking Moment: The Opening Night Murders by James Scott Byrnside –  my favourite of his three books to date, with a well-clued but still impenetrable method, before we get to the final reveal there is a moment that comes straight out of left-field which had me going back a few pages thinking “did that really just happen” – if you’ve read it, I’m sure you’ll know what I mean.

Best Weekend of the Year: The International Agatha Christie Festival – I’d been aware of this in previous years and because Bodies from the Library was unfortunately moved online, I decided to treat myself to a trip to Torquay instead. It was great to here some interesting talks but even better after a year of lockdown and social distancing to meet and spend time with those who had just been Facebook acquaintances. The icing on the cake was winning a quarter share in a copy of the world’s fattest book – this edition of the Complete Miss Marple.

Most Anticipated Book of 2022: The Five False Suicides by James Scott Byrnside – Despite having seen many recommendations over the last few years, I only started on JSB this January and then read a book a month until March and was then “I want more of this sort of thing” and then realised that for the first time since I was buying the “Redwall” books by Brian Jacques in the 1990s that I would have to wait for a real life writer to finish writing a new book before I could buy it! Honourable mention goes to “Death and the Conjuror” by Tom Mead from the GAD Facebook group.

Best Short Story Award: The Absent Minded Coterie by Robert Barr – I’d read this before in an anthology and came across it again in “The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont”. The lead character likes to think of himself as a great detective in the Holmes model but whilst capable of great things, is not always complete successful. Here he deals with a crime that is not really a crime at all.

Best Novel Award: Death Among the Undead by Masahiro Imamura – whilst I enjoyed all the books mentioned above, along with scores of others, this horror-locked room mash-up with its innovative solution which depends completely upon the central premise of the book takes the crown. My original review can be found here.

Thanks for reading and commenting during 2021 and I hope 2022 is an improvement for us all.


9 thoughts on “Review of 2021”

  1. I have not read as much by Max Murray as you have, only the one book. But I found it a bit meh and reviews for other books have never convinced me to track down more. Your dedicated reading of them definitely consolidates this sentiment! I was surprised by your choice of funniest book. I have read a few by that duo but have not found them particularly amusing. I have not read that specific title though – do you think the humour is a one off in the series?


    1. There are a pair of inept patrol car cops who appear in all but the first book, Roseanna, to provide moments of light relief, so if you didn’t pick up on that then the humour of The Locked Room probably wouldn’t be too your taste either.


  2. Glad to see Death Among the Undead emerge somewhere as the winner. It has not gotten the appreciation it deserves.

    Happy New Year!


  3. You heavy readers drive me crazy! Well, I’m proud of my twenty-seven, and I stand by that! I read one Martin Beck novel and watched one episode of the TV series: the word “humor” never crossed my mind during either experience. Not sure I can go back, despite the locked room and your assurance that it’s funny. Finally, The Voice of the Corpse has been sitting on my TBR pile since three days after JJ reviewed it. That was on September 13, 2018, so clearly I’ll get right on that!

    Happy New Year, John. Here’s hoping we get that week of good food, good books, and a nice crime dossier to all solve together.


    1. I’ll second that final sentiment. Definitely have a look at The Voice of the Corpse this year as it is an excellent village mystery. Maybe Murray’s main problem was that each of his books is quite different from what came before – or maybe he just had one great idea and that was that.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the confirmation re: Max Murray — I, too, loved The Voice of the Corpse, but The King and the Corpse left me rather meh. I have The Doctor and the Corpse on my shelves, but I’m not rushing to it any time soon.

    Delighted, too, that you’ve found some joy in ESG. The American Mystery Classics reissues are a pretty good guide to some quality Masons — though they include, or will soon, the admittedly average Borrowed Brunette, and it’s an expensive way to get to know and author of his volubility. TCot Stuttering Bishop is a fun early one, as is Counterfeit Eye. Man, I need to get back to some Perry Mason!

    Happy new year, John; here’s to a 2022 replete with excellent books and enlightening conversations about them.


    1. Very happy to see your post this morning and I hope 2022 is a great improvement on 2021 for you. I’ve also got a couple of Doug Selby’s so it will be interesting to see the difference between defender and prosecutor.


      1. Thanks, John — and if Perry Mason can get a bit too wild for you, hold onto your hat for the first few Selbys 🙂 Draws a Cricle is perhaps the point where the formula starts to gel, and that’s (not coincidentally, I’m sure) where the longer threads of the series get picked up properly. Would be wonderful if someone wanted to reissue those books sometime, they certainly deserve it…


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