Review of 2022

My TBR pile was on track to be below one hundred for the first time in a long time and then a kind hearted friend told me that there were twenty Brian Flynns in their local charity shop!

My personal reading highlights can be summarised as follows:

Best Short Story Collections

100 Malicious Little Mysteries -averaging 4-5 pages each these are deliciously wicked amuse-bouches. “An Easy Score” by Al Nussbaum where an old woman takes an unexpected revenge on the men who attacked and robbed her was the most memorable for me.

Lawrence Block: The Collected Mystery Stories – having enjoyed a first encounter with one of the Bernie Rhodenbarr novels, I was delighted to pick this collection of 71 stories for just £4. It opens with three tales of Bernie, before introducing the reader to the lawyer Martin Ehrengraf, who despite sometimes overwhelming evidence that his client is guilty always presumes that they are in fact innocent and will go to any extent to demonstrate this.  Also included are some of the exploits of hitman Keller and private eye Matt Scudder, alongside plenty of stand-alones, including “Strangers on a Handball Court” which puts a new spin on Patricia Highsmith’s classic premise.

Stanley Ellin: The Speciality of the House – I first read this collection too young when I was still at secondary school and couldn’t properly appreciate it. There is some humour such as “The Orderly World of Mr Appleby” and “Unreasonable Doubt” but this is more than tempered by the horror of the title story and others such as “Death on Christmas Eve” and “The Question”. Intriguingly there are two stories which are unresolved and yet done so well that I didn’t feel cheated.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Paul Halter –  Having read a few of his novels and two short story collections I finally got round to buying up the remainder of his oeuvre from Locked Room International.  He is definitely the modern King of the Impossible Crime. I particularly enjoyed the simplicity of the method in “The Demon of Dartmoor” to explain how someone was pushed out of a window despite there being no one close to them, the subtle clue which explained “The Madman’s Room” and the dizzying back and forth of “The Seventh Hypothesis” with its echoes of the film “Sleuth”.

Best Novels

I have three novels of the year, which handily fit neatly into the following categories.

Best Classic Mystery Award: Death of Jezebel by Christianna Brand – this has been long out of print and yet a number of my friends had read and reviewed it and praised it as the best thing since sliced bread. I was therefore very excited when it was reissued as a British Library Crime Classic. It was almost impossible for it to live up to such stratospheric expectations and coming in to land I was feeling slightly disappointed and then there was the genius reveal which is absolutely brilliant and yet absolutely absurd at the same time.

Best Translated Mystery Award: Death of the Living Dead by Masaya Yamaguchi – an amazing Japanese hybrid mystery which looks at what might happen if some people although they had experienced events that would normally have killed them did not die and blends that with a classically clued mystery. My full review is here and Libby Stump has written a number of posts such as this which have whetted my appetite for more – if they ever get translated that is!

Best First Mystery Award: The Red Death Murders by Jim Noy – a spectacular début novel which more than lives up to its daring claims to “provide clues openly in the tradition of Agatha Christie, ingenious explanations worthy of John Dickson Carr, and a complex plot to delight fans of Seishi Yokomizo”. My full review is here.

Thanks for reading and commenting during 2022 and here’s to a fantastic 2023.

Dead Men’s Morris (1936) Gladys Mitchell

“A jolly good murder,” he continued with enthusiasm, “would make Christmas jolly well worth while.”

Mrs Bradley is staying for Christmas with Carey Lestrange, nephew of her first husband, at his pig farm in Oxfordshire, when a local solicitor suffers a fatal heart attack whilst ghost hunting in an attempt to win an unsolicited £200 bet. The coroner rules it to be death by natural causes but a second suspicious death soon follows and Mrs Bradley finds herself once more upon the case.

As this was an early Mitchell title I had hoped it might be a better one and more on the lines of The Saltmarsh Murders (1932) and Death at the Opera (1934) which I enjoyed rather than Death and the Maiden (1947) and Tom Brown’s Body (1949) which I did not.

Unfortunately it is not: the morris dancing motif implied by the title is very much secondary to that of pig farming and whilst Mrs Bradley could be said to bring home the bacon to me it was just pig swill. There is too much repetition of key questions and then determining exactly who everyone was sleeping with and where on the nights in question. And there’s 290 pages of it!

There was one description though of Mrs Bradley that caught my eye:

To bring this terrible little old woman into the heart of his affairs was rather like asking a shark to defend one from cannibals. The shark might, and, he was certain, could eat the cannibals – in this case that particularly nosey inspector of police – but would it not turn upon him  and engulf him as a kind of relish to the meal?

She may be one of the 100 Greatest Literary Detectives but I’m done with her except perhaps for Speedy Death, her very first case which I know has a number of interesting and unusual features.


Reprint of the Year 2022: The New Investigations of Inspector Maigret (1944) by Georges Simenon (translated by Howard Curtis and Ros Schwartz)


After the five-story collection “Death Threats” in 2021, Penguin continue their (hopefully to be completed) new translations of the Maigret short stories with this bumper edition comprising the following:

The Hanged Couple – a barge crashes into the lock at Le Coudray because its husband and wife crew are hanging dead inside. The doctor says there was a gap of some hours between their deaths so what exactly happened and why?

The Boulevard Beaumarchais Case – there are bound to be consequences when a man is living with his wife and her sister and takes the latter as his mistress.

The Open WindowThe fact that for once Maigret was involved at the very beginning of a case was a matter of chance. Maigret is waiting to arrest a dodgy businessman but his quarry is shot under his nose.

Death PenaltyBut he was like those dogs who, let loose on a boar, would rather let themselves be disembowelled than retreat. If Maigret can’t get his man for one crime then he’ll make sure he gets him for another.

Candle WaxHe had been expecting to make a brief journey in space and instead he made an exhausting journey in time. Maigret investigates a brutal murder in the back of beyond.

Rue Pigalle – It was an absolutely classic case. Maigret had always claimed that if it weren’t for chance fifty per cent of criminals would escape punishment, and that without tip-offs another fifty per cent would remain free. A tip-off leads Maigret to a bar in Rue Pigalle where he finds a group of ne’er-do-wells but have they actually committed a crime?

Maigret Gets It WrongThere are people whose faces you can’t even smash because you’d be afraid your hand would get stuck in them! Maigret definitely wants to find an unpleasant man guilty of murder but has he been too clever for the good inspector? 

Madame Maigret’s Suitor – Maigret has to treat his wife as an official witness when a man she has been watching everyday in the square in front of their house is found dead. The case becomes a race between the two of them to discover the truth of what has been happening in the neighbourhood.

Their are nine other stories, one of which I still haven’t read, which I was going to write up yesterday but minor illness intervened.

This is an excellent collection, representing fantastic value for money, and a good place for anyone wishing to investigate France’s most famous fictional policeman, or an essential buy for those who have been collecting the Penguin new translations.

France won’t be winning the World Cup tomorrow, so give them something to cheer about with a vote for Maigret!

Reprint of the Year 2022: The Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) by Ellery Queen

Kate at Cross-Examining Crime is once again running her Reprint of the Year competition and here is my first nomination.

In a case of mistaken identity Captain Kidd kidnaps David Kummer and his niece, having mistaken him for John Marco, another guest staying on Spanish Cape. However later that night somebody rectified this error as the next morning Marco is discovered dead, dressed in only his opera cape and holding his cane. Ellery Queen is immediately drawn into the murder investigation as upon arrival at his holiday home he discovers Rosa, the missing girl, but not her uncle who Kidd took out to sea on his boat.

In his inimitable painstakingly logical fashion he solves the case, but only once he finally receives a key piece of information, without which he cannot make sense of the murderer’s actions.

During the course of his enquiries a number of other characters and authors are referenced, first when Ellery asks:

“What kind of male swears at a woman?”

“Well, sir,” murmured Tiller after a discreet cough, “in fiction it is the – ah – Dashiell Hammett type, sir.”

Secondly when having inspected Rosa’s hands Ellery says:

“You see, physical habits leave – very often – visible marks on the impressionable carcass. Dr Bell taught that to Doyle, and Doyle passed it obligingly onto Holmes; it was the secret of most of Sherlock’s prestidigitating deductions, as it were.”

Later he confirms the reason for saying “she” rather than “he”

“Oh, yes, that was a female. Didn’t you smell the powder? Sorry I can’t give you the makers name and odeur; I’ve never been Vance-ish in that direction.”

And then with a nod to the Knox Decalogue:

“You should have seen her fly at the walls! Just as if she thought there was one of those secret passageways here you read about in Oppenheimer and Wallace.”

I can’t remember a book with quite so many such references and although Ellery does not proclaim his fictionality in the way that Gideon Fell does, along with the Challenge to the Reader before the final chapters, it reminds us that Queen were very much playing a game with their readership.

The book even ends with Ellery describing the writing process as he promises to make sure a clue that he never refers to but which helps eliminate one suspect “will be neatly buried in the book”.

This may not the best of Queen but a vote for the Spanish Cape Mystery is a vote for the excellent American Mystery Classics series. 

Until next week, au revoir.