It is not long until 2020 is finally over and being realistic, I think today’s review will be the last one of the year. I do after all still need to get around to writing my end of the year post and I have to announce the Reprint of the Year award results. There is a short window of time left to place your votes, so here is the link if you need it.
I managed 10 reviews, though 12 reads this month, which is not too bad. But before the final winner of the Book of the Month for 2020 is revealed, let’s take a look, like last month, at previous winners from December…
The Case of the Constant Suicides (1941) by John Dickson Carr
Carr fans will not be too surprised by this choice, as it is one of his more popular titles. This was the book which made me decide to give Carr another serious go, having been less than impressed with my first Carr read, In Spite of Thunder (1960). I love the way TCOT Constant Suicides blends mystery fiction and the comedy of manners novel together.
Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors (1935) by Roger East
A slightly less well-known title and as its’ name suggests, it is a rather quirky mystery. I have not been able to track down any more of this writer’s work since reading this first book.
The Black Iris (1953) by Conyth Little
Regular readers of the blog will not be shocked by this choice of winner, given my love of the Littles’ writing. I would say this is one of their stronger titles.
The Last of Philip Banter (1947) by John Franklin Bardin
This is a wonderfully sneaky and unconventional mystery with a sting in its tail. Bardin did not write much crime fiction, but what he did write is highly memorable.
Murder of Olympia (1956) by Margot Neville
This is my only foray into the work of this sister writing duo from Australia, though I would like to read more by them. It was written in the run up to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and was involved in a newspaper competition, which you can read more about here.
Back to December 2020, I decided to share the Book of the Month accolade between Nicholas Blake’s Thou Shell of Death (1936) and Charlotte Armstrong’s The Chocolate Cobweb (1948).
Although these two are poles apart in style, they were both really brilliant reads, with their adept plotting and own brand of twists and surprises.
Cornell Woolrich’s The Bride Wore Black (1940) is also worthy of mention, mainly because I thought I might not like it and it turned out to be a good read after all. Always nice when that happens!
So which books have you enjoyed this month? Do you have a standout book of the year?
The Chocolate Shell of Death.
My outstanding (fiction) read of the year was Prelude To A Certain Midnight by Gerald Kersh.
There is a murder, a grim and brutal one; there are detectives; there are clues; there is a solution; but it’s not a whodunnit, howdunnit, or inverted mystery. It *is* a pitiless examination of failed lives, often very funny. Unlike any other book I have read.
Other notable crime reads, not remotely puzzles, were Red Harvest by Hammett (for the fifth time), Black Wings Has My Angel, by Chaze, and The Name Of The Game Is Death by Marlowe.
Can’t say I have read any of the books you mention lol But I think our tastes do diverge a bit when it comes to more noir/hard boiled titles.
The Chocolate Shell of Death sounds like an ideal cozy crime novel title!
That’s a great list, not least because I have read three out of seven books and agree with your assessment of them. Believe it or not but I had never heard of either the Roger East book or its author before this post, which must mean I’m no longer deserving of my laurels as Mr. Obscure Mystery. I will look for it asap, all the more as the cover art is very attractive (and intriguing)
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I am shocked lol Xavier not having heard of an author! Good job I was sitting down to receive that news!
The cover shown is from the Madsheep reprint. I don’t think there are many copies available of that one, however you might have better luck finding a Disappearing Detectives edition (the red/blue/white Collin Crime Club ones). Some of his other books also have unusual titles, but as I have said I have not been able to track them down.
I do quite like Nicholas Blake’s “Thou Shell of Death” – I recall enjoying it when I read it a couple of years ago. 😊
I’ve worked through 5 of the 6 modern crime novels I drew out of the library, on top of 2 additional books on my Kindle.
The best puzzler of what I’ve read was Chan Ho-Kei’s “Second Sister”, followed by Jane Harper’s “The Dry”. Ruth Ware’s “The Death of Mrs Westaway” had one or two clever twists too. The best thriller was MW Craven’s “Puppet Show”.
1 more library novel and possibly 1 or 2 more Kindle novels to end the marathon of modern mystery writing!
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Wow! You’ve done really well with all of those books. Zipped through them!