2015 is drawing to a close, so I decided to look at some of my favourite books that I have enjoyed the most this year. To avoid repetition I have discounted December as I shall also be doing a Book of the Month post. Additionally this post will focus more on months where I didn’t have book of the month posts and pre blog. Hopefully all of this will give you some ideas of what to read next year…
Although enjoying The Skeleton in the Clock (1948) by Carter Dickson, The Sussex Downs Murder (1936) by John Bude and Murder in Piccadilly (1936) by Charles Kingston a lot, Carrie Bebris’ The Intrigue at Highbury (2010) pipped them at the post. Carrie Bebris’ series involves the works of Jane Austen in that the central characters are Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy (now married). Each book in the series is set in a different Jane Austen novel in that it includes the specific characters and locations involved, though events do differ. There are now 7 books in the series, this being the 5th and I would argue that the first 2 books haver much closer to the supernatural genre than crime fiction. However after these initial books the stories sit more comfortably within crime fiction with Elizabeth and Mr Darcy taking on the role of amateur sleuths. As a rule I am usually wary of novels which are continuations or variations of classic novels but I think Bebris’ series is one of the exceptions, with the characters remaining faithful to their originals and once the supernatural element disappears the plots are plausible and engaging. So if you’re a Jane Austen fan this is definitely a series to try in 2016, though I would recommend beginning from book 3.
What Happened at Hazelwood (1946) by Michael Innes was my favourite read of February, which rather surprised me as I am not a big fan of Innes. This novel doesn’t feature his series’ sleuth Appleby. It is narrated by different characters which makes it engaging as different perspectives are revealed and the investigative process is interesting, probably because it is not burdened by Appleby. The solution to the crime is clever but not too ridiculous or fantastical, which can be an issue with Innes’ novels and more importantly for me the characters were well developed.
Would also recommend from this month: Mr Campion and Others (1939) by Margery Allingham, The League of Frightened Gentlemen (1935) and Fer De Lance (1934) by Rex Stout and Behold Here’s Poison (1936) and No Wind of Blame (1939) by Georgette Heyer.
This was a good month for great reads, but two stood out from the rest which were Hans Olav Lahlum’s The Satellite People (2015) and Malice Aforethought (1931) by Frances Iles. Starting with the first one, this is the second in Lahlum’s K2 series (I have reviewed the third one, The Catalyst Killing (2015) here on my blog). Set in 1960s Norway, this novel also borrows from the Golden Age in its style, having a Christie like feel, centring on a patriarch who is murdered at a family dinner. But the plot is enlivened by being linked to Norwegian history, in particular WW2 and the development of the relationship between the two detectives (one police, one amateur) also hooks you as you are reading. My second choice is from the Golden Age of crime and is probably one of the best inverted detective novels I have read, as Dr. Bickleigh connives at his wife’s murder. The ending completely shocked me and was simply brilliant. For anyone keen on reading Golden Age crime fiction this is a must for 2016.
The first in Manning Coles’ Tommy Hambledon series stole first prize for April’s best read and is called Drink to Yesterday (1940). Normally I am not much of a fan of thriller or spy novels but I really enjoyed this one and was left gasping at the end. I think what made this such a successful book was that it focuses on personalities, human nature and feelings and relationships much more. It’s not about throwing bombs at random and chatting up buxom young women. Furthermore, because of this it manages to hook you emotionally, so when the ending happens, you really do feel it.
However, a rather forgotten story I read from this month that I want to bring to your attention is Susan Glaspell’s short story ‘Jury of her Peers’ (1927), which was adapted from her play, Trifles (1916). The short story and the play are both set in the isolated countryside and concern a man and his wife, the former of which is murdered and his wife, whom the police believe killed him. The police are rather tactless, but it is the other female characters who are sympathetic to the wife and really try to figure out what her life was like and why she might have killed her husband and this is one of the reasons I really enjoyed this work.
This month included a number of new authors for me such as Dorothy Salisbury Davies’ A Gentle Murderer (1951) and Julian Symons’ The Three Pipe Problem (1975). The latter is the only Symons’ book I have read and I think it played around with the concept of Sherlock Holmes entertainingly and intelligently, with an actor who is playing said detective having to do some real life sleuthing. Davies’ book was also an enjoyable read as it features a clergyman sleuth and it was great to find another such amateur detective other than Father Brown (who I do enjoy). The psychology of the criminal is also well captured which again made it a good read.
Now we are starting to head into blog territory and the clear winner of best read in this month was Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder (2015), the must have and essential guide for all Golden Age detective fiction fans, providing insightful analysis on key texts and authors, little known facts about the Detection Club and its members and contextual information such as real life crimes which inspired the books we love so much. To read my full review of this fantastic book, click the link above.
Other good reads from this month: They Tell No Tales (1941) by Manning Coles and Alan Melville’s Quick Curtain (1934).
July’s best read was The Final Solution (2004) by Michael Chabon, which is set during WW2 and features Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, who is called upon to solve another case, namely that of a murder and of a missing parrot who has a tendency to repeat a numbered sequence. Although there is an interesting mystery involved, the main attraction of this book for me was the relationship between Holmes and the Jewish refugee boy and the more open-ended nature of the ending is also well conceived. Holmes who is known for his love of ratiocination seems to realise in this book that life is more than solving puzzles, which I also liked.
For the remaining months there has been a Book of the Month post and below are links to them, which will no doubt prevent this post becoming even more intolerably long-winded than it already is:
And what was December’s favourite read? Stay tuned for the final Book of the Month post…
Feel free as always to comment on any of the books I have mentioned or let me know what books you have really enjoyed this year in the comments section below.