|Conan Edogawa dons a seasonal deerstalker|
So here we are again. A year has gone by since my last annual round-up and the blog has undergone one notable change during that time: I dispensed with the confusing blog-titles and opening quotes, which used to be only tangibly related to the book or short story being reviewed – a decision that has saved me a lot of time. I no longer have to feverishly rummage through my bookshelves or trawl the web for fitting opening quotes.
Around the same time, I was toying with the idea to rename the blog "Path of Logic," but decided against it and keep everything as it is for the foreseeable future.
My best-of list this year consists of the following categories: the best and worst mystery novels read in 2018, a split section for the best short stories (singles and collections) and my favorite locked rooms of the year. Yes, just like in every other year, the locked room and impossible crime story dominate the list. Christopher Bush has four novels listed and could have been more, but decided to cut out a couple of them. And he has one novel mentioned in the worst-of column. The non-English mysteries (French, Norwegian and Japanese) are well represented here.
The only real surprise this year? A severe and shocking lack of John Dickson Carr! He's represented here by a single short story. I'll have to penance and rectify this gross oversight in 2019. Enough padding for one filler-post. Let's take down this list from the top.
THE BEST MYSTERY NOVELS READ IN 2018:
Shinsoban 8 no satsujin (The 8 Mansion Murders, 1989) by Takemaru Abiko
An early work of the Japanese shin honkaku movement, but distinguishes itself by being a comedic locked room mystery in the spirit of Leo Bruce's Case for Three Detectives (1936). Here we have two baffling arrow murders inside a mansion shaped like the number 8 interspersed with comedy bits at the expense of one of the policeman. A funny, clever and, above all, an enjoyable read.
The Mystery of the Dead Man's Riddle (1974) by William Arden
A highly amusing, solidly plotted juvenile mystery novel, in which Jupe, Pete and Bob have to crack a six-part coded riddle in order to find the treasure of the titular dead man, Marcus "Dingo" Towne. They're frustrated in their efforts by their long-time nemesis, "Skinny" Norris, but find an unexpected alley in Dingo's eight-year-old grandson, Billy, who wants to be detective – who even dons the cape and deerstalker. I should also return to The Three Investigators more often in 2019.
The Mystery of the Invisible Thief (1950) by Enid Blyton
This entry on the list constitutes the biggest and most pleasant surprise of 2018! A juvenile detective novel concerning a rash of apparently impossible burglaries in an otherwise quiet, charming village, but what makes the story standout is the crystalline plot and fair play – complete with clues, red herrings and red herrings that become clues once you know they're red herrings. A gem from the juvenile corner of the genre!
The House of Strange Guests (1932) by Nicholas Brady
The novel that introduced the wonderful Reverend Ebenezer Buckle and the second best title from this lamentably short-lived series, in which Maurice Mostyn is murdered during a house party with an uncomfortable cast of house guests. A splendidly clued detective novel, complete with a chapter entitled "A Study in Clues," but what really impressed was the daring choice of murderer. Something that could easily have ruined the whole story. So it says something about Brady that he made it work.
The Case of the Chinese Gong (1935) by Christopher Bush
A delightfully Carrian mystery novel and one of Bush's rare, full-blown impossible crime stories. An elderly, penny-pinching man is shot to death in the middle of his living room, while surrounded by his relatives, but nobody saw the person who fired the shot. A delightfully complex and knotty detective story.
The Case of the Missing Minutes (1936) by Christopher Bush
A textbook example of Bush's minutely-timed, clockwork plots with one of his trademark alibi-tricks, but framed in what is one of his darkest stories and deals with the murder of a sadistic child abuser, Quentin Trowte – who (mentally) abused his 10-year-old granddaughter. I can only think of a handful of murder victims, in detective fiction, who deserved to be knifed more than Trowte.
The Case of the Murdered Major (1941) by Christopher Bush
The first in a trilogy of wartime mysteries and actually wanted to pick The Case of the Kidnapped Colonel (1942), but settled on The Case of the Murdered Major because it had stronger, better worked out wartime setting – namely a POW camp. Captain Ludovic Travers is appointed as the Adjutant Quartermaster of No. 54 Prisoner of War camp, but, once again, has to play detective when the unpopular major is murdered. As always, there's an excellent alibi-trick hidden in the plot.
The Case of the Missing Men (1946) by Christopher Bush
Ludovic Travers is summoned to the home of a celebrated mystery writer, Austin Chaice, who want to use his book, Kensington Gore, as a reference source for a writing manual he's working on, but Travers has to play amateur criminologist once more when Chaice is murdered. A pure, puzzle-driven detective story with the delightful destruction of several risky, closely-timed alibis.
Murder Most Ingenious (1962) by Kip Chase
A wheelchair-bound ex-homicide detective, Justine Carmichael, gets involved with his former colleagues when the owner of a private, second-rate art gallery is brutally murdered and a painting disappears from the vault. The book-title is a shining example of truth in advertising.
Stranger at the Inlet (1946) by Martin Colt
The first of a series of three novels and precursor to the acclaimed Ken Holt book by "Bruce Campbell," a shared penname of Sam and Beryl Epstein, who used here the name "Martin Colt" for a short-lived series about two brothers, Roger and Bill Baxter. They live in a tiny, out-of-the-way seaside town and, one summer, they're swept up in an exciting adventure when a suspicious-looking stranger rents their cottage. A charming and intelligent written example of the juvenile corner of the genre with very believable child-characters.
Flashpoint (1950) by John Russell Fearn
The first recorded case of one of Fearn's flagship detective-characters, Dr. Hiram Carruthers, who investigates the destruction of a fishmonger's shop and several fires that were started in empty, locked places. A first-class mystery novel by my favorite second-stringer.
The Clock in the Hatbox (1939) by Anthony Gilbert
An excellent treatment of the courtroom drama with a plot somewhat reminiscent of Anthony Berkeley's Jumping Jenny (1933) and Joan Fleming's Polly Put the Kettle On (1952): Viola Ross is standing trial for the murder of her husband, Teddy Ross, but one holdout among the jurors is determined to prove her innocence. A cunningly cut gem from the Golden Age that had me fooled.
L'Homme qui aimait les nuages (The Man Who Loved Clouds, 1999) by Paul Halter
A truly magical, fairy tale-like mystery novel that tells the story of a young woman who can become invisible, turn stones into gold and can predict the future and there's a lonely, clifftop house – where the wind kills people. One of my favorite Paul Halter novels to date!
Murder Isn't Easy (1936) by Richard Hull
The plot of this one is hard to describe and condense in a short, capsule-like review, but this is a good example of the semi-inverted mystery with a twist with the added bonus of presenting an amusing picture of an advertising agency. A good and fun read!
The Strawstack Murder Case (1936) by Kirke Mechem
A rural example of the Van Dine School of Detective Fiction: Steven Steele, the Philo Vance of the Great Plains, helps the police with finding answers to the baffling questions surrounding the murder of prominent Wichita oil operator. A well written and characterized detective novel with a tight plot and a beautiful backdrop. And the story memorably depicted a deadly oil well explosion.
Wobble to Death (1970) by Peter Lovesey
A highly original historical mystery novel, set in 1879, praised by John Dickson Carr for its authentic depiction of the Victorian era and its people, which takes place during a six day Go-As-You-Please contest – en endurance test for the Proven Pedestrian also known as Wobbles. A great example of how good the historical detective story can be in the right hands.
Invisible Weapons (1938) by John Rhode
As to be expected from Rhode, this is a pure, plot-oriented detective novel with an impossible murder at the heart of the plot. Jimmy Waghorn and Dr. Priestley have to figure out who bludgeoned Robert Fransham to death in a locked cloakroom with a second murder demonstrating Rhode's technical ingenuity when it came to snuffing people out.
The Corpse Steps Out (1940) by Craig Rice
A comedic mystery in which Jake Justus and Helene Brand try to tie the knot, but they're too busy dragging bodies around the place and running from the police. Luckily, the infamous criminal lawyer, John J. Malone, is close at hand to smooth everything out. Nobody did the madcap chase mystery better than Rice.
Jernvognen (The Iron Chariot, 1909) by Stein Riverton
I can only describe this story as a sultry premonition of the coming Golden Age, but has only recently been translated from Norwegian and is well worth a read.
Murder Among the Angells (1932) by Roger Scarlett
This entry used to be one of the more rare, hard-to-get and expensive detective novels on the secondhand book market, but Coachwhip republished the entire Inspector Norton Kane series in 2017. A series comprising of five mystery novels and this one is undoubtedly the best. A grand-old mansion is divided between two brothers who are not on the best of terms, but, when they begin to reconcile, the house becomes to the scene of two baffling murders – one of these murders is committed under impossible circumstances in a closed, moving elevator. A long-lost gem recommended to everyone who loves old-fashioned, puzzle-focused detective fiction. Read it!
This is the House (1945) by Shelley Smith
A splendid detective novel that takes place in a modern villa, constructed on top of a 16th century Portuguese fortress, on Apostle Island. A holidaying mystery writer, Quentin Seal, solves two very peculiar murders there. And the second murder would definitely have raised some eyebrows when the book was first published.
Death of a Queen (1935) by Christopher St. John Sprigg
Charles Venables is dispatched, as an emissary, to the fictitious Balkan kingdom of Iconia to help the ruling dynesty, the Herzvogins, lay a family curse to rest, but his presence is unable to prevent the death of Queen Hanna – who's murdered in closely guarded Royal bedchamber. An excellent, solidly plotted detective story with a realistic take on the Ruritanian romance.
The Six Queer Things (1937) by Christopher St. John Sprigg
A suspenseful, turn-of-the-century style damsel-in-distress yarn updated to the plotting standards of the genre's Golden Age and even has an inexplicable poisoning during a séance.
Not Quite Dead Enough (1944) by Rex Stout (re-read)
A volume comprising of two novellas, "Not Quite Dead Enough" and "Booby Trap," which are, in my opinion, two of the best stories this series has to offer. Stout rarely wrote, or plotted, them better than these two absolute gems!
Death Must Have Laughed (1932) by John V. Turner
Admittedly, this one is, plot-wise, one of the weaker titles on this list, but, in spite of its imperfections, this was a good and fascinating detective novel about the impossible poisoning of a champion boxer during a world-title match.
The Threefold Cord (1947) by Francis Vivian
Inspector Gordon Knollis of Scotland travels down to the village of Trentingham to help the local Chief Constable with the brutal murders of two pets, a bird and a cat, who belonged to the wife of a rich, unscrupulous and despised furniture magnate, Fred Manchester – who's murdered shortly after Knollis arrived. What ensues is a marvelous example of the Golden Age mystery and the plot has an intriguing plot-thread about a possibly murdered hangman.
The Singing Masons (1950) by Francis Vivian
An absolutely honey of a detective story that begins when a body is discovered in a disused well in the garden of an abandoned cottage. The plot buzzes with bee-themed clues, red herrings and lore.
Inugamike no ichizoku (The Inugami Clan, 1951) by Seichi Yokomizo (a re-read)
A landmark novel of the Japanese detective genre and has one of the country's most iconic detective-characters, Kosuke Kindaichi, solving a series of utterly bizarre murders at the lakeside villa of an influential silk family. A classic detective story if there ever was one!
THE BEST SHORT STORIES READ IN 2018:
Short Stories from Collections:
De bergen die geen vergetelheid kennen en andere mysteries (The Mountains That Do Not Forget and Other Mysteries, 2018) by Anne van Doorn
- "Het meisje dat bleef rondhangen" ("The Girl Who Stuck Around")
- "De dame die niet om hulp had gevraagd") ("The Lady Who Had Not Asked for Help")
All But Impossible: The Impossible Files of Dr. Sam Hawthorne (2017) by Edward D. Hoch
- "The Problem of the Leather Man"
- "The Problem of the Phantom Parlor"
- "The Problem of the Crowded Cemetery"
- "The Problem of the Miraculous Jar"
- "The Problem of the Enchanted Terrace"
The Zanzibar Shirt Mystery and Other Stories (2018) by James Holding
- "The African Fish Mystery"
- "The Japanese Card Mystery"
- "The Zanzibar Shirt Mystery"
- "The Philippine Key Mystery"
The Case of the Invisible Case and Other Mysteries (2012) by Andrew May
- "The Case of the Shakespearaan Super-Chimp"
- "The Case of the Shocking Science Quarterly"
These Daisies Told: The Casebook of Professor Ulysses Price Middlebie (2018) by Arthur Porges
- "The Unguarded Path"
- "Coffee Break"
The Argosy Library: Four Corners, vol. 1 (2015) by Theodore Roscoe
- "He Took Richmond"
- "I Was the Kid With the Drum"
The Misadventures of Ellery Queen (2018) edited by Josh Pachter and Dale C. Andrews
- "Le mystère des ballons rouge" ("Mystery of the Red Balloons") by Thomas Narcejac
- "The Book Case" by Dale C. Andrews and Kurt Sercu
- "The English Village Mystery" by Arthur Porges
- "Elroy Quinn's Last Case" by Dennis M. Dubin
- "The Man Who Read Ellery Queen" by William Brittain
- "E.Q. Griffin Earns His Name" by Josh Pachter
- "The Ransom of EQMM #1" by Arthur Vidro
Single Short Stories:
Kendell Foster Crossen's "The Closed Door"
Barry Ergang "The Play of Light and Shadow"
Randell Garrett's "A Stretch of the Imagination"
Paul Halter's "The Robber's Grave"
THE WORST OR MOST DISAPPOINTING READS OF 2018:
The Case of the Monday Murders (1936) by Christopher Bush
I had to cut a lot of Bush's mystery novels from my best-of section, because otherwise he would have utterly dominated this years list. So, in order to balance everything out, I'll add the only Bush that has so far disappointed me. A poor and utterly disappointing treatment of the Golden Age serial-killer story with a treat-bare plot. A complete dud.
The Other Bullet (1930) by Nancy Barr Mavity
As a detective story, this one began promising and had potential, but Mavity wanted to have her cake and eat it, but left a messy and disappointing story behind. And one that doesn't play particularly fair either.
Vegetable Duck (1944) by John Rhode
A rare, hard-to-get title that has often been praised by those who managed to get their hands on a copy, but nothing about it impressed me. Not the story-telling, plot or characters. Discovering this was a middle-of-the-road title in the series was a letdown to say the least.
My favorite locked room mysteries of 2018:
My love for the impossible crime tale is well documented on this blog with more than 400 blog-posts tagged with the "Locked Room Mysteries" label. Predictably, I have read quite a few locked room stories this year, but my two favorites came from the Detective Conan anime series. The Cursed Mask Laughs Coldy has a standard locked room premise, but the ingenious solution is startlingly original and has to be seen to be believed. The Case of the Séance Double Locked Room has a pair of cleverly contrived, ingeniously linked impossible murders. I consider these two episodes to be classics of the locked room detective story.
I wish everyone who has continued to read my blog a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I'll see you all in 2019. :)