My Reading Year in Review: A Time Capsule

This is the sort of the blog post I have grown to dread, particularly as the volume of reading I am managing to do each year is decreasing. It is the kind of post which creates a lot of self-inflicted pressure and whilst I fully agree that it doesn’t matter how much you have read, there is always a part of my brain which continues to feel bad that I haven’t managed over 200 reads per annum in quite a few years. So I had begun to opt out of doing such posts and I was going to do the same this year. But late one night, well at least 10:30, an idea popped into my head, or rather a question: Which of my 2022 reads would I put into a time capsule for future generations to discover? Further questions followed: What reasons would give a book a golden ticket into the capsule? What would future people think of my choices? What conclusions might they draw?

A picture of a time capsule.

I have never encountered a time capsule in person, I just have vague memories of the time Blue Peter dug one up in 2000. So naturally, with little knowledge, I am assuming a deluxe one can be bought which can fit around 20-30 books. If this is not the case, then don’t disillusion me!

Unsurprisingly most of my choices are crime fiction, so I will definitely be giving the impression that this is a popular genre to whoever opens up the capsule, and to be fair I don’t think this is an inaccurate impression, except the fact that my crime fiction tastes lean towards older crime fiction, rather than modern. However, some non-crime fiction books also made the cut. So without further ado here are the 2022 reads I would put into my time capsule….

Man digging a hole in the desert.

Book No. 1: Odor of Violets (1941) by Baynard Kendrick

Why: This was my favourite read from my book group reads this year. It is an excellent example of a mystery novel which successfully blends and fuses several styles of crime fiction writing together. In addition, it also includes an early example of a blind detective, and this aspect of the book is deployed well within the plot itself, which is perhaps not surprising given the interest the author had in blindness. In fact, Kendrick served as an advisor at the Blinded Veteran Association, which was especially rare given that he was not blind himself.

Book No. 2: Sing me a Murder (1960) by Helen Nielsen

Why: This was my first encounter with this author, and it left me keen to try more by her. Nielsen demonstrates cinematic writing qualities, particularly in the opening setup and her characters defy neat characterisation. It is hard to decide what the protagonist’s end game is, so there is plenty to puzzle out in this story too. If you enjoy puzzle mysteries but want to dip your toes into classic suspense fiction, then this is the book to try.

Book No. 3: Jumping Jenny (1933) by Anthony Berkeley

Why: Well, it is always good to add a note of controversy to your time capsule and given the level of discussion Berkeley’s book generated in my book group, I think Jumping Jenny would do the job nicely. I wonder if I ought to include printed copies of our reviews to demonstrate how diverse opinions on the story are. I imagine it would cause plenty of strong opinions in future years too. I don’t think Berkeley would be too upset by this.

Book No. 4: Work for the Hangman (1944) by Bruce Graeme

Why: Of the three Theodore Terhune mysteries I read this year, this was my favourite, and I would love future readers to learn of this bibliophile mystery series, given how funny and entertaining it is. In this series Graeme never wrote the same book twice and this one has a more traditional structure (which is unusual for the writer). Alibi breaking is a key feature of this novel. However, I would probably slip a note inside this book to point out that A Case for Solomon (1943) and Seven Clues in Search of a Crime (1941) are the best books in the series.

Book No. 5: Swan Song (1947) by Edmund Crispin

Why: In a hundred years from now who knows how many 20th century authors will be remembered and read. To ensure Edmund Crispin does not fall into obscurity I decided Swan Song must go into the time capsule. I think this is one of the best books in the Gervase Fen series. Crispin’s writing style can be concise at times, but that does not hinder him from creating high impact with his prose. He shows how much you can achieve when writing a comic crime novel in terms of plotting and characters. Incidentally this book was also a favourite of Anthony Boucher.

Book No. 6: Faculty of Murder (1960) by June Wright

Why: For those who have read my blog for a few years you will know how much I love the work of June Wright, so it was a bit of a no brainer when it came to deciding whether to include this story or not. Of the two Mother Paul mysteries I have read to date I would say this one is the best and I like the idea of including in my time capsule some non-UK/USA reads. There is a lot to enjoy in a June Wright novel: plot, characters, humour – but I also like how they provide a snapshot of life in 1950s Australia, which I thought might be of interest to future generations.

Book No. 7: The Life of Crime (2022) by Martin Edwards

Why: Reference works often crop up in time capsules as the aim of these cached treasures is to communicate something of life in the present to those in the future. Of the non-fiction I have read this year Martin’s book received an instant pass into the capsule. After all, what if hundreds of years from now, Google has collapsed, and no one knows anything about the history of crime fiction? Particularly Golden Age Detective fiction! It’s unthinkable! With Martin’s book I am sure this disastrous gap in knowledge would soon be filled in.

Book No. 8: For Old Crime’s Sake (1959) by Delano Ames

Why: Dagobert and Jane Brown are one of my favourite fictional sleuthing couples and I will witter on about them given the slightest provocation. The fact I have mentioned them less often on the blog of late is probably because I have finished their too-short series. However, earlier this year when writing How to Survive a Classic Crime Novel (to be released in June 2023), I needed to re-read For Old Crime’s Sake and unsurprisingly had a delightful time doing so. This is the final book in the series, but it is a series which can be read out of order, (a useful feature for future generations as it is a series notoriously hard to complete) and I was impressed with how Ames manages to end his series on a high note with a return to a puzzle focus with lashings of comedy. This book was also published under the name of Lucky Jane. So if you can find a copy buy it!

Book No. 9: Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone (2022) by Benjamin Stevenson

Why: I thought it best to include some modern crime fiction inside my time capsule and this debut novel is certainly deserving of inclusion. It is one of those rare modern mystery novels which actually lives up to its claims of channelling Golden Age Detective fiction. It actively interacts with Knox’s Decalogue and successfully drip feeds clues and backstory throughout the narrative, so it is not all bunched up in the final few pages.

Book No. 10: The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe (1938) by Erle Stanley Gardner

Why: This was my second nomination for the 2022 Reprint of the Year awards, and I think it would be a crime not to introduce future readers to the delights of Perry Mason and Della Street. The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe is a great introduction to the lengthy series, and I enjoyed in particular how well the writer includes many arms to his plot yet does not lose control of them.

Book No. 11: Reputation for a Song (1952) by Edward Grierson

Why (seriously why?): When pondering over my list I did begin to wonder if it would be disingenuous to only include books I really liked in my time capsule. Would this give a distorted picture of my reading experience? And yes, it amused me to put a terrible book inside the capsule, so future readers had to suffer share the experience too.

Muttly the dog snickering.

Book No. 12: The Red Death (2022) by Jim Noy

Why: This is the second of the modern crime fiction novels to make the cut for the time capsule and it provides a different kind of setting, set back in an earlier time shaped around Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death’. Who knows what state crime fiction writing will be in, in the future when no doubt some kind of apocalypse will have occurred, and society is beginning to rebuild itself and is flailing around trying to create detective stories once again yet continually getting muddled as to what the detective figure should do and how to create an impossible crime mystery. However, their problems will vanish when they find this time capsule and read Jim’s book. He shows well how to avoid including heavy info dumps in your story, as well as depicting how it is possible to include a strong mystery puzzle without overriding the characterisation. Throughout the book the increasing number of deaths are not treated as an academic exercise as there is a real drive for the central characters to find the killer.

Book No. 13: Having a Wonderful Crime (1943) by Craig Rice

Why: Whilst this is not Rice’s best book, I did want to include her inside my time capsule, as she is another writer I really enjoy. Since this was the only book by her that I read this year, my options to choose from were limited. Hopefully though it will instil some enthusiasm for the author and future readers would go hunting out the other books in her John J. Malone, Jake and Helene Justus series. This is still an amusing story, with an intriguing crime which is set up well, it just weakens a little during the investigation as the central characters split up rather than band together as they normally do. This delays the pooling of information which affects the pacing.

Book No. 14: Time to Change Hats (1945) by Margot Bennett

Why: This book is included for near identical reasons to those of the previous book in the list, although I would say Bennett’s book is stronger than Rice’s. It provides an engaging snapshot of wartime Britain and provides an interesting crime set up, as the female victim who dies is dressed in the clothes of the male victim who is wounded miles way and she is sitting in his house. Figuring out the connection between the two events is a good part of the novel’s puzzle.

Book No. 15: The Fabulous Clipjoint (1947) by Fredric Brown

Why: This book is perhaps a change of pace from some of the other older crime novels in my time capsule. I have not read many books by this author, only 3 I think, but I love what he does with the genre. This title is the first book in the Ed and Am Hunter series and it certainly whetted my appetite for more and I would like to think it would do the same for future readers. The choice of the adolescent protagonist was particularly interesting.

Book No. 16: The Twist of the Knife (2022) by Anthony Horowitz

Why: This is the latest in the Daniel Hawthorne series and it is always a treat when another one is released. This story provides my time capsule with a theatrical mystery – what capsule would be complete without one?

Book No. 17: Death on the Nile (1937) by Agatha Christie

Why: Even in a thousand years and even if all digital information is irrevocably erased, I still think somehow and in some way Agatha Christie would still be known about, though hopefully not cultishly followed. Nevertheless, this well-known title of hers remains highly deserving of a place in the time capsule. I was re-reading this title for my wedding themed vintage crime fiction project, and I was initially worried that a re-read would see me enjoying it less. So, I was so pleased when this proved not to be the case and I was surprised by how rich a text it was. The personalities of Linnet, Simon and Jacqueline are deep ones for mining as you try to assess their culpability and I also enjoyed how this mystery engages with the genres of fairy tales and Greek tragedy.

Book No. 18: The Listening House (1938) by Mabel Seeley

Why: Seeley was a new-to-me author, and I was glad I had finally got around to reading something of her work. Whilst her work has at least one toe inside the Had-I-But-Known camp, her brand of it is surprisingly gritty and I liked how it deviated away from the more common middle-class variant of this subgenre. Again, as well as a great mystery, it also provides a timestamp of that period in America, for those who were nearer to poverty than they would comfortably like to be.

Book No. 19: Death of Jezebel (1948) by Christianna Brand

Why: This was another re-read and one for my book group. It has been a book which has been highly sought after for many decades and it is only the recent reprint which has enabled more mystery fans to access a copy for a reasonable price. Who knows how many copies will be around in 100 or 200 years from now? It may once more become an elusive and hard to get a hold of book. So, if that is the case I ought to include a copy in my time capsule to make a future reprint possible, as Christianna Brand is an author worth remembering and preserving for posterity and this is one of her finest books.

Book No. 20: The Flyaway Highway (1936) by Norman Lindsay

Why: This was an unexpected read, prompted by a recommendation from the Dean Street Press Facebook group and if you love metafictional stories then this is one you must try without delay. This is the only children’s book which has made it into my time capsule (although in fairness to me, I don’t tend to read them very often), but I think it is one worth including for adults as well as or children. It is a delightful way to spend an hour or two and since I gave future readers a copy of Reputation for a Song, I should probably make it up to them!

Book No. 21: An Alien at St Winifred’s (1992) by Adrian Plass

Why: This is the first of my non-mystery fiction inclusions and it is a book which I have read multiple times over the years, and it is one I always find myself returning to. It is one of my comfort reads and I can’t imagine future readers not needing a read which is like a warm blanket wrapped around you.

Book No. 22: The Passenger (1939) by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz

Why: In contrast this is a much starker and bleaker read – a brand of writing I can only enjoy in small doses. Yet when I do, they can often be ones which fully engross me and have a high reading impact. What particularly touched me about this one is how the author predicted quite so accurately how bad things were going to become for Jewish people in Nazi Germany.

Book No. 23: Away with the Penguins (2020) by Hazel Prior

Why: Bittersweet comedy involving someone making a life altering decision is a type of fiction which again I enjoy in small doses, although in this case it is because I find the narrative arc can become repetitive. However, the more unusual setting of a penguin research station in Antarctica, made me give this book a chance and I am very pleased that I did.

Book No. 24: Garfield: The Great Lover (1982) by Jim Davis

Why: I re-read a lot of Garfield books this year and if any extra space is found in the time capsule, I would be sorely tempted to fill it up with more Garfield books. I am not hugely into cartoons, but this is a series I can return to time and again. I have the controversial statement to make that I prefer Garfield to Snoopy! The character of Garfield is pure comedy gold, even if he is not as good as gold himself.

Book No. 25: Dancing with Death (1947) by Joan Coggins

Why: This was my first nomination for the 2022 Reprint of the Year awards, which meant I needed to re-read it and despite knowing the solution, it was a mystery I was able to enjoy all over again. Joan Coggin’s Lady Lupin series is only four books long, but it is definitely a novel which merits saving for future generations of comedy crime fiction lovers.

Book No. 26: The Feast (1947) by Margaret Kennedy

Why: This was a last-minute addition to the list, not least because I only received it on Christmas day and only finished reading it yesterday. Whilst to say it is Jane Austen like is probably sacrilegious, that was the author who sprang to mind as I read it. The characterisation is probably the area which remind me of Austen most strongly, but Kennedy’s approach to plotting and the drive behind the narrative are two other areas which echo Austen. It is the sort of book where you can argue that a lot, or barely anything, happens. A cliff collapse is the beginning and the culmination of the tale, but the real drama of the book is located elsewhere. This is a powerful book.

Book No. 27: Deadline at Dawn (1944) by Cornell Woolrich

Why: Woolrich’s book is not an afterthought, it was in fact included on my handwritten short list. However, when typing in the list I managed to miss this one off somehow, but fortunately I realised my error before posting. He is another author I have included because of his creative approach to plotting and how his characterisation engagingly fuels the action of the piece. This was a story which surprised me in many ways, as its synopsis sounds like the basis for a second-rate movie, yet the novel which follows is far far superior to that and I love how you don’t really know how things are going to turn out. This story is an excellent way to end the list and if he isn’t on your 2022 read list, then he should make it on to you your 2023 TBR pile.

Dog dropping a book down a hole.

Phew! We made it. Since rounded up numbers always look better, I have three openings for my time capsule. So I ask you this question, if you could add three of your 2022 reads to my time capsule which three would you pick? They don’t have to be crime fiction.

Housekeeping Notice: On the 31st December I will be posting the 2022 Reprint of the Year awards results. They are excitingly close so please vote if you have not done so already. I have been having some days off blogging recently, so I have some reviews to catch up on, as well as a few non-review posts. Hopefully I will have the energy to do this over the next week, but it may mean that some of my December posts will appear in January, including my book of the month post. I hope to do more blogging in 2023 than I did this year, but I am wise enough not to commit myself to multiple projects and plans. Nevertheless, one aim I do have is to read the Ellery Queen magazines that I received in my advent calendar this month.

12 comments

  1. Only three? Purely on the basis of ‘books I have most enjoyed this year and will reread often, I would pick Island on the Edge: A Life on Soay, by Anne Cholawo, Death from a Shetland Cliff by Marsali Taylor and The Forest of Boland Light Railway by BB. The final one of the three is a book I read and adored as a small child, and I was in two minds as to whether or not to reread it, but unlike so many childhood favourites, it still has the magic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well since it is a hypothetical exercise you could always get a time capsule of your own lol But yes I appreciate three books is a difficult number to whittle down to. Sounds you picked a varied selection though.

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  2. If we stick to strictly mysteries, then my three choices (and it was very difficult to narrow it down) would be: The Devil in Music by Kate Ross (The fourth and unfortunately last–she died too soon–in an excellent historical mystery series. ); Murder at the College by Victor Whitechurch (for all the reasons I gave in my Reprint of the Year Nomination) & The Conjure-Man Dies by Rudolph Fisher (same). I read two Agatha Christies that earned more stars, but I figure that Dame Agatha will keep on going and won’t need to be put in a time capsule. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Given how much you read I can only imagine how hard it would be to pick only three, so you did very well. I am pleased that your 11th hour for the ROY awards turned out to be such a good book for you.

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  3. You’ve already included two of my top three novels of the year, so please add “Death of the Living Dead” by Masaya Yamaguchi. Nice to see Adrian Plass in there – I love the picture of Christian life presented in his Sacred Diaries.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great idea with the time capsule! And very pleased to find a fellow Garfield fan. I really like your non-mystery choices as well as the mystery ones and I’m afraid you are adding to my book wishlist. Perhaps not the bad one though!

    Liked by 1 person

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