Book of the Month: December 2015

Looking back over this month’s reading I have to say it has been a mixed bag ranging from great reads to average reads to ultimately disappointing reads. I have encountered new authors such as Constance and Gwenyth Little’s The Black Headed Pins (1938) and returned to some familiar friends such as Ianthe Jerrold’s Let Him Lie (1940). There has also been some surprising or quirky reads such as The House Opposite (1931) by J. Jefferson Farjeon where I didn’t expect representations of race to be such an underlying key feature and Called Back (1883) by Hugh Conway, which is an unusual adventure story with a mystery twist.

However there are only two real contenders for Book of the Month this month and they are John Dickson Carr’s The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941) and Todd Downing’s Murder on Tour (1933).

MOT

The quick pace and engaging narrative style made Murder on Tour a great read for me and I enjoyed the similarities the book held with Agatha Christie, another favourite writer of mine. What makes this novel stand out from a lot of other Golden Age novels is its’ choice of setting which is mostly in Mexico and Downing’s understanding of Mexican history and culture, made the location of the novel vibrant and informative. The setting also makes the plot a bit more different as Hugh Rennert, a US customs agent is tracking down a killer who is attached to an artefact smuggling racket. Although the book isn’t entirely fair play, the choice of killer is good.

The Case of the Constant Suicides

Although the setting of Carr’s The Case of the Constant Suicides is not as outré as Downing’s the Scottish Highlands work well within the story, providing just the right sort of atmosphere for a case involving a number of suicides or are they murder? But what really made this a good book for me was the focus on the characters, as opposed to dry alibis and the use of comedy in the novel, in particular the comic interplay between Alan and Kathryn Campbell. I also felt this book was aligning itself with another genre, the comedy of manners and in my review I in fact rename the book as The Case of the Constant Misunderstandings.

Before writing this post I was still in two minds as to which book should win but the writing of the post greatly clarified my thoughts and the final winner of 2015 for Book of the Month is…. *drum roll*

trophy1

 

The Case of the Constant Suicides

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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11 Responses to Book of the Month: December 2015

  1. Keishon says:

    John Dickson Carr is on my list to read, where should a newbie like me start?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well based on advice from JJ at Theinvisibleevent and The Puzzle Doctor, I would recommend The Case of the Constant Suicides, as your first outing with Gideon Fell (one of JDC’s sleuths). But I would also recommend The Emperor’s Snuff Box (which doesn’t feature a series sleuth), She Died a Lady and The Skeleton in the Clock (the last two written under the name of Carter Dickson). Avoid In Spite of Thunder, as this was my first encounter with JDC and I really didn’t enjoy it and it put me off reading JDC for a long while.

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  2. JFW says:

    Ah, so now the top book for December 2015 is finally unveiled! I definitely agree that ‘Case of the Constant Suicides’ was one of Carr’s stronger performances… Do you have a top book – or even top 3 books – for the year in mind? Or would that by default go to the only two books that secured the maximum rating of 5/5 – Lahlum and Melville?

    Anyway, picking up on what I mentioned in a different reply thread, I’ve just completed Robin Forsythe’s ‘Polo Ground Mystery’, and I can now confidently assert that Dean Street Press really ought to have disseminated early review copies. (I wouldn’t have known about the four Forsythe reprints if not for some random searches on Amazon…) I think it’s stronger than the Punshon titles I’ve read, and holds its own well among the reprints by Ianthe Jerrold and Annie Haynes.

    The writing strikes me as self-consciously literary, and the characterisation comes across as generally successful, with an artistic yet savvy protagonist/ sleuth and at least one fiery and dangerously capable female character. The mystery is pleasingly convoluted, made up of multiple things gradually converging – which is congruous with the fact that Forsythe himself was actually convicted for pulling off an intricate fraud scheme…! There are a handful of rough edges, but I definitely recommend that you check out Forsythe soon – the Dean Street Press reprints are going cheap on Amazon. I would be interested to hear what you make of his works. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I would it hard to pick my Top 3 reads of the year, though your suggestion of my three 5/5s is probably the closest I could get to an answer and you seem to remember my ratings better than I do! I can’t remember if any books I read pre blog reached such dizzying heights. This is one of the downsides of reading a lot. Your comments on Robin Forsythe make it sound really good and I am tempted to give this author a go. But as I lack a kindle I would have to wait until the paperback comes out in February the kindle version is the only one available on Amazon. What would your favourite reads of the year be then?

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      • JFW says:

        I think I read too many mystery novels too quickly, and enjoyed most of them… I should heed JJ’s advice and go at a slower pace! But the more memorable ones would be ‘Seventh Hypothesis’ by Paul Halter, ‘Love Lies Bleeding’ by Edmund Crispin, and ‘Poisoned Chocolates Case’ by Anthony Berkeley.

        In terms of the puzzle I liked Rupert Penny’s ‘Policeman’s Evidence’ and Christianna Brand’s ‘Death of Jezebel’; in terms of the British Library reprints I enjoyed Freeman Wills Crofts’s ‘Hog’s Back Mystery’; in terms of Dean Street Press reprints I think Ianthe Jerrold’s ‘Dead Man’s Quarry’ emerges at the top, followed by something by Robin Forsythe or Annie Haynes. As for more modern mystery writing, I quite enjoyed ‘Nine Man’s Murder’ by Eric Keith’ and ‘Meditation on Murder’ by Robert Thorogood.

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      • I think I can have a similar problem in reading books too quickly. However, doing a blog has I’m improved that as it slows my reading pace down (a little) and also pins me down to saying why one book was better than another. I have a Paul Halter coming in the post so I shall get to try him soon. Now you’ve finished the book by RF what are you reading?

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  3. JFW says:

    Glad that running this blog has been helpful to you as a discerning reader. 🙂 Which title by Paul Halter is on its way to you?

    I was tempted to start on something by Joan Hess or Jill McGown, but my preference for Golden Age mysteries drew me towards Anthony Wynne instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Seven Wonders of Crime is on its way for me. Skimming the blurbs of his work this one intrigued me and seemed a bit different. Have you read it before? Are reading Anthony Wynne’s Murder of a Lady? I’ve read that one and enjoyed it a lot.

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  4. Anne H says:

    Where to start with John Dickson Carr? The first one I read was He Who Whispers, one of his best. The first Gideon Fell is Hag’s Nook. Most of my reads in the early days were green Penguins. Trust those books, Carr or Carter Dickson, by their covers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the Carr recommendations. I will bear them in mind for when I next go book hunting. Although I am trying to be good at the start of the year and work through the books I already have before buying anymore.

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