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.