Murder in Retrospect: The Best and Worst of 2014

"Things must be done decently and in order.
- Sherlock Holmes ("The Adventure of the Retired Colourman," from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, 1927)
"A cold, precise but admirably balanced mind."
First of all, before anything else, I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas day stuffed with the diabetic inducing joy and sweetness of the holiday season. If you didn't celebrate Christmas, bah-humbug on you, but hope you had a great day nonetheless.

Now that we got that out of the way, it's that time of the year again to face that annual, dreaded chore: sifting through your own reviews, as if they're cold case files, in order to compile the traditional list of favorite mystery novels read over the past twelve months. As I've pointed out ad nausea, 2014 wasn't a productive year for reading or writing about detective fiction, which is why the list isn't as comprehensive as in previous years.

Looking back at my twenty-fourteen list, I understand why this year felt like such a slum: I haven't come across a single, genuine classic from the Golden Age and the list is dominated this year by post-Golden Age titles – even the locked room mysteries are shockingly underrepresented! So much for scratching the stains of time in 2014.

Well, here's without further ado, the List of Best Mystery Novels Read in 2014:    

The Dream Walker (1955) by Charlotte Armstrong

A rarity among a rare kind of impossible problem, the doppelgänger, presented as an inverted mystery and thus the "astral projection" trick could be played up to full effects for story telling purposes. The aim is to assassinate the character of a highly respected man and it just made for a great suspense novel.

Cruise Control (2014) by M.P.O. Books

A review of this police thriller with detective interruptions has been on the top of this page for more than week a now. So you' ve probably read familiar with my opinion on the story by now. 

Case With No Conclusion (1939) by Leo Bruce

Leo Bruce was, in my humble opinion, one of the best humorists writing detective novels and the satirical Case for Three Detectives (1936) is a testament to that claim. In this case, Bruce is gently jabbing the 1920s body-in-the-library kind of mystery in the ribs, but it's a clever piece of work in its own right.

The Third Bullet and Other Stories (1954) by John Dickson Carr

A modest collection of short stories by the Master of the Locked Room Mystery, which includes the titular novella and the superb "The House in Goblin Wood." 

The Pearl Harbor Murders (2001) by Max Allan Collins

One of my favorites from Collins' now defunct "Disaster Series" and usually places a (once) famous mystery author, such as Jacques Futrelle (The Titanic Murders, 1999) and Agatha Christie (The London Blitz Murders, 2004), in a historic blip on the radar to solve a murder. However, in The Pearl Harbor Murder it's Edgar Rice Burroughs (of Tarzan fame) who has to keep an eye out for German spies and figure out who murdered a sensational band singer, while only the reader knows what's about to hit them within 48 hours.

The Balcony (1940) by Dorothy Cameron Disney

This may not have been one of the knotty, twisted affairs I have encountered in previous novels by Disney, but it was still a solid detective story with well-rounded characters and historical awareness – often carrying the weaker elements of the plot.

The Nightingale Gallery (1991) by Paul Doherty

The first in "The Sorrowful Mysteries of Brother Athelstan" series, set in the 13th century during the reign of Richard II of England, and involves the seemingly impossible poisoning of Sir Thomas Springall in his bedroom, which was protected by a medieval burglar alarm – floorboards in the hallway to the bedroom "sing" when you walk over them. A well crafted historical mystery, even if I figured out how it was done.

Le brouillard rouge (The Crimson Fog, 1988) by Paul Halter

John Pugmire has been doing his part in bringing about a second Golden Age of Detective Fiction by translating the works of the French craftsman of impossible crime stories, Paul Halter, of which The Crimson Fog was the seventh – and more have been published since. The plot doesn't allow for much commentary. So read it for yourselves.

Akui (Malice, 1996) by Keigo Higashino

Higashino was introduced in the West with a 2011 translation of Yogisha X no kenshin (The Devotion of Suspect X, 2005) and Malice is the third novel released in English, which revolves around the brutal strangling of a best selling author. What ensues is a cat-and-mouse game between the detective and the murderer. I'm not a fan of whydunits, but I had to make an exception for Malice.

Hangman's Hill (1946) by Franklyn Pell

Granted, this isn't the best mystery novel on the list, but Hangman's Hill strength is mainly derived from its interesting depiction of news correspondents on the battlefield in a partially liberated France.

Dead Cold (2007) by Louise Penny

The first novel from the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series I sampled and the plot deals with the seemingly impossible electrocution of an unlikable, self-proclaimed guru in the small, snow-covered town of Three Pines – during a game of curling. I'll be returning to this series in 2015.

The Spook Lights Affair (2013) by Bil Pronzini and Marcia Muller

John Quincannon and Sabina Carpenter deliver the best detectives services money can buy, in the San Francisco of the 1890s, which puts them on the trail of an armed robber, a vanished corpse of a suicide victim and an array of apparently supernatural lights haunting an abandoned lot of horse-tractions cars at the beach.

To Catch a Thief (1943) by Daphne Sanders

"Daphne Sanders" was better known under a different penname, that of "Craig Rice," and the punch-drunk style of the John J. Malone mysteries, but this standalone is quite different in style – in which the main characters, John Moon, doubles as protagonist and antagonist. Even helping a hand in the investigation he's a suspected of. Rice seldom disappoints and this time was no different.

The Worst of 2014:

Well, the worst of 2014 was undoubtedly the excruciating death-throws of a returning Jonathan Creek, stretched painfully over three episodes, which probably left fans of the series with a kinder feeling towards the third and fourth season. And that's not a good thing.

The worst mystery novel, or attempt at writing one, has an undisputed winner this year: De onzichtbare doder (The Invisible Slayer, 1963) by Edward Multon. That's all you need to know about this book. The title and name of the author. Never bother getting this one translated.

This probably won't be the last post of the year, I'll probably squeeze in a review of Case Closed, but all that's left for me now is to wish every one of you all the best for the New Year.


  1. Did you read the Books novel in Dutch? If not where can it be found?

    1. I read the novel in Dutch and there are (alas) no English translations of the series.

  2. I had forgotten about Jonathan Creek...or maybe surpressed memories of it.

    What's the best Books out there at the moment? I know I keep saying I'll try him, but I really hope to start this year with one of the novels. (as for why it's taking me so long to actually start reading Books: for the price of one Dutch novel, I can get two to three Japanese novels).

    1. De laatste kans is (IMO) still the best in the series, followed closely by Een afgesloten huis, but everything from De blikvanger onward is really good. Yes, unfortunately, the pricing is really the biggest drawback of the series.