Book of the Month: January 2023

Whilst for some January dragged on for eons, I found it sped past quite quickly, or at least that is the excuse I am using for why I only managed nine reads this month. Five of these reads were by authors I had not tried before and whilst some of these were not out and out successes, such as with Nancy Spain’s R in the Month (1950) and Marjorie Bremner’s Murder Most Familiar (1953), there were two that knocked it out of the park, which I will talk about in a moment.  January also saw me reviewing my first Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine from 1951 and I hope to get to the February issue in the next couple of weeks. In addition, there was a guest post on the blog concerning a recent reprint from the work of Swedish crime fiction author Frank Heller and a post I did about a 1930s detective fiction themed newspaper cartoon which I received at Christmas.

Since the quality of my reads varied quite a bit, I decided to do a ranked list of the novels I managed to review this month (not including the two catch up reviews I did for December reads):

8th Place: Murder on the Christmas Express (2022) by Alexandra Benedict

Murder on the Christmas Express cover. It is green with a train track border. There is a red train going horizontal across the cover separating out the words of the title. There are also snowflakes.

Verdict: Beware the deceptively vintage mystery looking cover. This is not a vintage crime-esque mystery, and I really struggled to click with the social media obsessed cast of characters of the book. I also found the writing style quite stale.

7th Place: Murder Most Familiar (1953) by Marjorie Bremner

Moonstone Press cover for Murder Most Familiar. It shows a country house and this image is shattered into pieces.

Verdict: The style of the prose was also an issue in this read as it was often colourless and lacking opinion (for a first-person narrative), so dramatic events were reported in a monotone voice at times. The solution requires new information to be revealed during the explanation of the crime, which is also not satisfying for the mystery fan.

6th Place: R in the Month (1950) by Nancy Spain

Virago Modern Classics cover for R in the Month. It shows a woman driving a red sports car along a coastal road.

Verdict: Whilst Nancy Spain’s writing does not lack sparkle, I think her plot needed a more overt lead sleuth and the ending needed more zip. We also see the grave crime of a witness at the last minute mentioning the fact that they saw the killer dispatch the poison.

5th Place: Dead on Time (1948) by Clifford Witting

Galileo Publishing's cover for Dead ib Time. It shows a country town high street next to a pub.

Verdict: It was hard to split this book with the title which made it into fourth place, but what perhaps set it back a little is its more thriller ending, and I also felt the reader was kept too far removed from the suspect body of characters.

4th Place: Death of an Author (1935) by E. C. R. Lorac

British Library Crime Classic cover for Lorac's Death of an Author. It shows a countryside scene involving a river and trees.

Verdict: Lorac provides a brilliant opening dinner party scene and an intriguing narrative hook to follow it, which seems to turn things upside down. However, I think the reduction in presence of the lead female character was a mistake and whilst the police do a good job of exploring the permutations of the case they are asked to investigate, Lorac requires a deux ex machina to help conclude their task, which was less satisfying.

3rd Place: Peril at End House (1932) by Agatha Christie

Fontana cover for Peril at End House. It shows a woman in a black dress lying dead on the floor with a red shawl.

Verdict: This was an enjoyable and successful re-read for me. The central puzzle and its’ solution is a strong one and I think it is only the ending which lets this one down, as it tries to fit too much in, so each dramatic incident is passed over too quickly.

2nd Place: Villainy at Vespers (1949) by Joan Cockin

Moonstone Press edition of Villainy at Vespers by Joan Cockin. Church window shape is used as the border. Inside the shape are trees and a sinister looking tower by moonlight. This image is in black and white.
Villainy at Vespers by Joan Cockin

Verdict: It was another tricky task splitting this book from the title which grabbed first prize. The writing style of Cockin’s book strongly appealed to me, as it showed an ability to take its time  without boring the reader nor sending them to sleep. It makes you interested in the little details of ordinary life. The mystery also has a lot of unusual features. However, I think the solution was a little too convoluted and needed to be more streamline. This book is available from the Moonstone Press who reprinted it last year.

1st Place and Book of the Month: The Birthday Murder (1945) by Lange Lewis

Perennial Library cover for The Birthday Murder. It shows a white house and then a close up of jars in a kitchen. One of the jars has a hand written sign saying: ant poison.

Verdict: This seems to be a month for reading books whose weakness lies in its ending and in this case Lewis mars her ending in the final few paragraphs; the solution is thankfully not part of this. This was my first read by Lewis and aside from a problematic wrap up, she is an author whose work I would love to return to. The writer knows how to handle her red herrings and she picks a strong and independent Hollywood writer as her female lead, and I found she was a protagonist I could easily engage with. The puzzle set up for the crime is not overfilled, yet the clues and potential suspects provide plenty of food for thought for the reader. This book is being reprinted by American Mystery Classics this summer and it is definitely one I recommend buying.

What was your favourite read of January?

My first read for February is by George Bellairs. It is hard to say what else I will read this month. I don’t have any fixed ideas, except for reading the next Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine issue and I am hoping to re-read another Christie. I am quite tempted by The Sittaford Mystery. I also have the fun of going to see The Mousetrap at the Theatre Royal next week with my sister, which I am looking forward to. Finally, keep your eyes peeled on the blog this week as I have something new to share with you, and with that air of mystery I shall close…


  1. Crime read of the month for January was probably The Murder of My Aunt – very fun in a dark way, and had the added bonus that the fictional area is based on a town near me.

    Liked by 1 person

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