It’s that time of the month again when I have to make the tricky decision of deciding which book reviewed on my blog is deserving of being my Book of Month (a prestigious award you know). My reading this month has been quite varied in some respects covering both Golden Age authors and modern ones. However a distinct theme which has been run throughout my reading is that of locked room/ impossible crime mysteries. Therefore alongside the Book of the Month award I will also be adding a new category for this month which is Best Locked Room/ Impossible Crime Mystery of the Month (original title I know).
Book of the Month
Reviewing the ratings for this month’s reads shows one clear winner receiving 5/5 and that is L. C. Tyler’s Cat Among the Herrings (2016). It’s laugh out loud characters and dialogue made this book impossible to put down once I started it, and the mystery is well-developed and thought out, with a satisfying solution. The hapless detecting duo are a delight to follow and Elsie’s drunken Cluedo dinner party will stay in my memory for a long time.
Only half a point away from Tyler’s novel there was E. C. R. Lorac’s Black Beadle (1939) which had an engaging narrative style and Inspector Macdonald was an enjoyable central detecting figure. The choice of victim was a wise one being a blackmailer, meaning there were a lot of potential suspects. Moreover, this novel looks at the external influences which can affect a case as a number of the suspects are high profile figures and the issue of anti-Semitism is also handled interestingly. Max Afford’s Blood on His Hands (1938) was another novel in a similar position ratings wise, but I felt his novel deserved second place as Afford delivers a strong pair of locked room/ impossible crimes and more importantly for me his explanation of his fantastical events does not become bogged down or unreadable. I also enjoyed how his narrative style and characterisation was engaging and had depth.
So in the end these are my final winners for this category:
However, I think to leave it there would be to overlook a number of other enjoyable reads that I had, which from a ratings point of view were only 0.25 from the Lorac and Afford’s novels. This month saw a return to reading Annie Haynes and I think her novel, The Bungalow Mystery (1923), was actually stronger than some of her novels featuring her serial detectives, as she got the right balance between narrating things from the suspects and police point of view. I also read Lenore Glen Offord’s Skeleton Key (1943), which was a departure from my usual reading as it is categorised as domestic suspense. It was a refreshing change from what I usually read and Offord is a capable story teller. This month also saw me concluding my reading of Robin Forsythe’s work, which the Dean Street Press reprinted in January and I felt that The Spirit Murder Mystery (1936) is Forsythe’s strongest novel. Another novel reprinted by the DSP that I read was Ianthe Jerrold’s Deadman’s Quarry (1930). This is a story definitely worth reading as it showcases how detective writers were trying to blend the detective novel with the novel of manners and her characterisation is superb, especially her female characters, which contains an interesting anti-heroine.
Best Locked Room/ Impossible Crime Mystery of the Month
Quite unintentionally I read a number of this type of novel beginning with Rupert Penny’s Sealed Room Murder (1941), followed by John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man (1935), Max Afford’s Blood on his Hands and finally Norman Berrow’s The Bishop’s Sword (1948). In comparison to choosing some of the positions for my last award this was an easy choice for me to make, going for Max Afford’s Blood on his Hands. His narrative style and characterisation surpassed the other novels in this category, building up tension and suspense effectively. I think Berrow or Carr’s crimes may be more fantastical in some respects compared to Afford’s, but I think some of the fear and drama comes out of the fact that Afford’s crimes occur in ordinary places, with ordinary people. Moreover, Afford is particularly good at explaining and examining his seemingly impossible crimes in a way which is not boring to the reader.