here we are again, gathered at the yawning grave of another year that
has passed too soon and, before we start shuffling dirt on the
casket, I like to take a moment to go over my best and worst reads of
2019. Merry Christmas by the way!
year provided me with an interesting best-of list. The 1920s and
2010s are surprisingly well represented here, but the 1930s and 1940s
still dominate the list. Same can be said about the omnipresent
room mystery and more than a dozen non-English (translated)
mysteries made it on the list, but, astonishingly, I reread more
novels and short stories than I remembered – because a handful of
them made it on the list. However, the undisputed winner of 2019 is
Brian Flynn with four individual entries. So lets run down the list.
BEST MYSTERY NOVELS READ IN 2019:
of only four (translated) novels based on the long-running and
popular manga series, The
Kindaichi Case Files, in which Hajime Kindaichi gets lost in
a snowstorm and ends up on the doorstep of Silverwood Lodge. A place
where a members of an on-line, detective-themed chat group, On-Line
Lodge, have a meeting at the time. There is, however, a shadowy
person among them, "The Trojan Horse," who's plotting wholesale
murder. This is perhaps the first traditional detective story that
used the internet in any meaningful way. And it has a great
is arguably the weakest title on the list, but the debut of both
Harriette Ashbrook and her series-detective, Spike Tracy, was such a
fun, lighthearted take on The Van Dine-Queen School of Detective
Fiction I had to include it. Spike helps his beleaguered brother,
District Attorney R.
Montgomery Tracy, to find the murderer of the wife of a rich diamond
merchant and destroys an iron-clad alibi in the process.
the other hand, Murder Makes Murder is easily one of the more
memorable titles on this list and without a question Ashbrook's
strongest mystery novel. Spike is traveling down to a small island,
off the coast of Maine, to be the best man at a wedding, but, on the
second night, the bride-to-be is gruesomely murdered in her bed and a
storm cuts has cut them off from the outside world – which forces
Spike to play detective once again. A very human and tragic detective
story with a shockingly original motive.
enthusiastically called The 3-13 Murders one of the greatest
hardboiled detective novels in my review, but not everyone
agreed with me. Nonetheless, I quite enjoyed tailing Al Delaney
around Chancellor City, in yellow cabs, as he tackled numerous
intertwined cases. I liked it.
second novel in the only series Blyton wrote for children older than
Barney “R” Mysteries," in which a lively, convincingly
drawn group of children solve a long string of baffling thefts of
historical and valuable documents – snatched away from locked and
guarded rooms. Admittedly, the solution is nearly as old as the
locked room mystery, but Blyton added something new to it that made
it acceptable again in 1950.
very unusual impossible crime novel about a strange night at a
walled-in manor house, "as impregnable as a tombstone,"
where an uninvited, seemingly invisible, guest performs a number of
unnerving parlor tricks. One of the more fantastic titles published
by Locked Room
superior detective novel than Brean's most well-known mystery,
Wilders Walks Away (1948), in which Reynold Frame and
Constance Wilder's plans to get married in the historical town of
Concord, Massachusetts, get imperiled. They are flung head first into
a case involving a ghost lamp, a phantom army, a quasi-impossible
disappearance and an excellent historical mystery. This is the book
that Brean should be remembered for.
and Ed Hunter are engaged to investigate whether, or not, a
revolutionary new invention is worth a five-thousand dollar
investment. A radio-device that can pick up all kinds of signals, but
the inventor claims he has been receiving signals from the planet
Mars! A marvelous and original, semi-hardboiled detective novel with
a hint of science-fiction.
brings Ludovic Travers and Superintendent George Wharton to a
co-educational school where a dying teacher was found in common's
room and the hated headmaster is beaten to death. This was a welcome
return to those tricky, clock-work plots of early Bush.
ambitious debut of, what may be, one of the first mystery writers of
the Second Golden Age that will come into full bloom around 2030
(mark my words). A mystery novel not only with all the brilliance of
a Japanese shin honkaku, but also one of those rare homages to
Byrnside's favorite mystery novelist, Christianna
Brand. Something that becomes very obvious when you reach the
solution to a case comprising of such bizarre elements as an
armor-clad body, a locked room, dismembered corpses and a dying
message. So what's there not to like?
detective novel with a dazzling, kaleidoscopic plot written by
someone who has only been reading classic mysteries since 2017, but
moved with prodigal speed in mastering all the aspects of
story-telling, plotting and characterization – delivering a modern
masterpiece. The rich and complex plot is hard to briefly sum up. So
just read it for yourself.
novel once considered to be one of Carr's mid-rank (locked room)
mystery novels, but, over the past fifteen years, its status has been
elevated to one of his ten best titles. This made me decide to reread
the book and it definitely held up. A cleverly spun story about a
young playwright who becomes involved with a woman, Lesley Grant,
who's accused of being a serial-poisoner – having left three men
dead inside locked rooms. This is followed by an impossible murder
inside a locked room. A five-star detective novel that indeed
deserved a reappraisal.
admirably attempt to fuse the traditional detective story with the
modern, character-driven crime novel and introduced Chase's
wheelchair-bound detective, Justine Carmichael. A former police chief
who's regularly consulted by his ex-colleagues whenever they
encounter a case outside of the normal routine. What a shame Chase
only got to write three detective novels.
classically-styled detective novel presented as a modern police
procedural that brings the police-detective to a bleak, desolate
village where time moves a lot slower and the inhabitants are stuck
in a previous era. The detestable vicar of the place is found shot to
death in a classroom of an abandoned school building, but the bullet
seems to have miraculously vanished. A splendidly written and
evocative novel with an original and well-done impossible crime.
title of the book is a little misleading, because the titular
solutions are no more than nine different possibilities, or
combinations, of accident, murder and suicide Sir Clinton Driffield
has to consider in a quadruple murder case – ending with an elegant
solution to a problem of labyrinthine proportions. A classic
detective novel from the 1920s.
great specimen of the anthropological detective novel, steeds in
folklore and Gothic atmosphere, which takes place on a Australian
sheep-and cattle range dominated by the family matriarch, Huldah –
who lives a reclusive existence in a locked suite of rooms. Only two
people are ever allowed to enter her private domain. Around her
several murders take place that could only have been committed in
Australia. A beautifully written and plotted mystery showing why
Courtier deserves to be reprinted.
excellent example of the Christmas mystery with a solid plot and an
intriguing premise: a costumed Christmas party ends with a game of
hide-and-seek in the dark, but a blind guest finds a body in the long
gallery. The solution is not is pitch-perfect. However, the book
still holds up as one of the better Christmas mysteries.
country is not exactly known for its traditionally-styled,
plot-driven detective fiction, but "Anne
van Doorn," the penname of M.P.O. Books, has been working hard
to alter this shameful state of affairs. So I'm glad to report that
he produced one of my favorite detective novels of 2019! A truly
excellent detective novel that begins with a false deathbed
confession, which brings to light well-handled (locked room) murders.
However, what elevates the book to classic status is the revelation
about one of the protagonists that completely and utterly floored me.
My ego got schooled hard on that one.
Flynn is my Great Discovery of 2019 and The Mystery of the
Peacock's Eye is one of the better titles reprinted by Dean
Street Press, in which Flynn expertly tied together a case of Royal
blackmail with a poisoning at a dentist's surgery. A book obviously
written as a homage to Conan Doyle (c.f. "A Scandal in Bohemia,"
1891), but was more reminiscent of early Agatha Christie.
of the earliest and best examples of the Christmas mystery novel that
became popular in the 1930s. The story begins with Sir Eustace Vernon
excusing himself during Christmas dinner and vanishes from the house,
but the case gets rolling with three subsequent discoveries: a
suicide note, the body of the butler in the pantry and a badly
mangled corpse on the train tracks. The solution glistens and shines
with all the brilliance of the Golden Age.
most uncommon impossible crime novel, framed as Doylean thriller, in
which a man is poisoned under inexplicable circumstances during a
siege on a house by members of a sinister society, The Silver Troika
– who were decimated by the victim during the Great War. But where
they responsible for his death? The plot is a little light, but the
sheer joy of the story-telling and original premise made this one of
the more fun detective novels read this year.
of the regular commuters on the bus from Estings to Raybourne, who
always traveled on the open top, doesn't descend the stairs one day
and when the conductor goes to investigate he discovers that the man
has been murdered. However, the man had been up there all alone. So
how did the murderer get to him? Flynn only wrote a handful of
impossible crime novels and this is his best one.
time-bending detective novel stretched across nearly a century,
between 1911 and 1991, which masterfully intertwines two different
narratives comprising of a hunt for a copy of long-lost film and two
impossible crimes – one of them committed in 1966. A tour-de-force
that will stand the test of time and will one day be considered a
classic impossible crime novel of the 2010s.
fascinatingly written novel, set at an army fort, which tries and
succeeds in being both an inverted mystery and proper detective novel
simply by inverting the inverted detective story. An approach
anticipating Anthony Berkeley's Jumping
Jenny (1933) and Trial
and Error (1937). And the locked room aspect was just the
cherry on top.
relatively minor novel, especially for McCloy, but the plot
pleasantly blended suspense with espionage and presented as a locked
room mystery, which begins when a shadowy visitors enters and leaves
the locked apartment of the heroine. It deserves to be better known.
award-winning debut of "NisiOisN"
and the book is, what's known in Japan, as a Light Novel (Young
Adult) illustrated with manga artwork that tells the story of the
reluctant protagonist, Ii-chan – who accompanies a friend to a
gathering of geniuses on Wet Crow's Feather Island. There he's forced
by circumstances to take a proactive hand in capturing a ruthless
killer. One of the murders is a gruesome beheading in a locked
storage room and has a solution as brilliant as it's original.
is, what Anthony Boucher called, the simon-pure jigsaw puzzle
detective story that used scientific detection to slowly, but
methodically, unravel an impossible murder committed during a cricket
match – liberally using challenges to the reader to keep the
armchair detective on their toes. If you like plots, you'll love the
surprisingly successful hybrid of the sophisticated theatrical
mysteries of Ngaio
Marsh with the science-based detection of R.
Austin Freeman and Ellery
Queen-like challenges to the reader. The problem here centers on
the mysterious poisoning of the lead actress in the Christmas
pantomime Dick Whittington and His Cat during the dream-scene.
macabre, grisly tour-de-force and the cornerstone of the Japanese
shin honkaku movement, which skillfully manipulated the multiple
strands of a complicated plot involving a legendary unsolved case
from 1936, body parts scattered across Japan and an impossible
murder. A bloody jigsaw puzzle eventually pieced together by an
astrologer and fortune-teller, Kiyoshi Mitarai. There are some minor
imperfections, but the central puzzle, tying everything together, is
simply ingenuis. A genuine classic!
long anticipated second translation of the doyen of shin honkaku,
Soji Shimada, which takes place in a Western-style house, Ice Floe
Mansion, with a bizarre, glistening cylindrical tower – perched at
the top of a snowy cliff. The owner has invited a group of people to
spend the Christmas holiday there, but then people start to get
murdered in locked rooms. Not as grandiose as its more famous
predecessor, but it's still a solid detective story with a classic
locked room-trick. And the story made excellent use of diagrams.
very unconventional, but surprisingly successful, merger of a
satirical English village mystery and a sultry thriller taking place
in Africa, peppered with a dose of social comedy, which showed Sprigg
was an excellent writer and plotter – blessed with a wealth of
imagination. The result here is one of his more memorable detective
novels. What a shame he died so young.
book aspiring to be both R.
Austin Freeman and Dorothy
L. Sayers with a plot concerning the unexpected death of a doctor
and a missing moneylender, but Sykes brought an original idea to the
table. A way to commit an almost perfect murder.
richly detailed detective story, set in the bombed ruins, shuttered
buildings and makeshift shops of post-war Japan, but with a plot
deeply emerged in the “shadowy, sensual world” of tattoos
and cursed ink. An iconic locked room mystery from one of the
pioneers of the original honkaku era.
is an incredibly dark, pulpy take on the quintessential English
village mystery steeped in witchcraft, serial killings, vigilantism
and an impossible crime of the no-footprints scenario. One of
Verner's longer novels that obviously tried to be a little more than
most of shorter novels. I believe he succeeded.
fine example of the pulp-style detective story and a warm homage to
John Dickson Carr's He
Who Whispers (1946), which centers on a tragically wronged
woman, Fay Meriton, whose back-story is tied to a dark, long
abandoned house that once belonged to one of history's more
illustrious figures, Cagliostro. Villagers claim they still lights
moving around the dark house and bodies tend turn up below the window
of the Long Room. One of Verner's best mystery novels.
Inspector Gordon Knollis
is called on to investigate the murder of Dr. Hugh Challoner, who was
found strangled in his surgery, which is case full of doodles of the
titular dog and a tightly-drawn, closely-knit group of suspects. A
solidly plotted detective novel and one of my favorite entries in the
BEST SHORT STORIES READ IN 2019:
Stories from Collections:
Problem of the Potting Shed"
Problem of the Haunted Hospital"
Problem of the Secret Passage"
a Glass, Darkly"
Bug That's Going Around"
Dark and Stormy Light"
WORST OR MOST DISAPPOINTING READS OF 2019:
book with plenty of wintry charm and a lingering Christmas spirit,
but the plot was razor-thin and uninspired, which was a huge
disappointment after reading The
Mystery of the Invisible Thief
(1950) and the previously listed The
Rilloby Fair Mystery.
poorly written and plotted piece has replaced Ellery Queen's The
Spanish Cape Mystery (1935) as the most transparent novel
from an otherwise highly regarded Golden Age author. A paper-thin
plot filled with shallow, immature characters and a bare amount of
detective work by a couple of holidaying private-eyes. Like I said in
my review, the dead don't care and neither should you.
book with a strong opening and a great setting, a lonely army
fortress in the middle of nowhere, but with an uninspired ending.