far, it appears we almost made it through another year and barring
any minor disasters, like World War III, next year might be
marginally better on a whole. There's already some translations,
reprints and even brand new detective novels from Seishi Yokomizo,
Yukito Ayatsuji, James Scott Byrnside and Anne van Doorn to look
forward to, but first there's unfinished business to be sorted out.
Yes, the yearly roundup of best and worst mysteries novels and short
stories encountered in 2022.
year, the best-of lists is evenly mixed bag of tricks with a strong
representation of the 1930s and '40s. Christopher Bush and Josef
Skvorecky respectively represent the '50s and '60s. There are handful
of 1970s titles and a scattering of (short) stories from '80s and '90s, but, surprisingly, there are more titles included from the past
few years than usually is the case – a lot of them published in the
last two, three years. Not as evenly mixed is the always domineering
presence of the locked room mystery, but some of the best read this
year were rereads. While the number of rereads has gone up, there are
not as many translated, or untranslated, non-English mysteries that
made the list as in previous years. Nor was it a particular bountiful
year for short stories, but, on a whole, it was not a bad year for
detective fiction with some of best work coming from debuting,
self-published authors. I also finally managed to complete "The
Updated Mammoth List of My Favorite Tales of Locked Room Murders &
Impossible Crimes" and cobbled together "Curiosity
is Killing the Cat: Detective Novels That Need to Be Reprinted."
with that out of the way, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and hope
to see all back, happy and in good health, next year. Now let's dive
into this overlong, rambling list.
BEST DETECTIVE NOVELS READ IN 2022:
diepe rust (In Deep Peace, 2022)
by M.P.O. Books (untranslated)
first in a sequel to the District Heuvelrug series, starring Gisella
Markus, who made her first appearance in Cruise Control (2014)
and belongs to the category of troubled cop whose personal troubles
tend to mess with her work – which might be a bit too contemporary
for most classically-minded readers of this blog. However, Books is
one of the few Dutch mystery writers who's not only aware of the
genre storied history, but builds on that history as well. Whether
he's writing a modern police thrillers, traditional detective stories
or historical mysteries. The Dutch crime-and detective genre would
have been a poorer place without him!
and Two Make Twenty-Two (1932) by Gwen Bristow and
case of saving the best for last with a banger of a surprise-ending
and had the authors played things a little bit fairer, while punching
up the mid-portion of the story, I would have unhesitatingly placed
it among the best Golden Age mysteries. Still an excellent vintage
that's miles ahead of Bristow and Manning's abysmal The Invisible
Host (1930). So it earned a spot on the list.
Case of the Green Felt Hat (1939) by Christopher Bush
is a first-rate Christopher Bush detective novel and a shining
specimen of the British Golden Age mystery. Ludovic and Bernice
Travers spend a part of their honeymoon in an otherwise quiet,
agricultural town, Edensthorpse, but a recently released swindler
ruffled some local feathers – unsurprisingly leading to his murder
before too long. There are plenty of alibis to demolish, as to be
expected from 1930s Bush, but The Case of the Green Felt Hat
is first and foremost a vintage whodunit.
Case of the Three Lost Letters (1954) by Christopher
the mid-1950s, Bush had transformed Travers from an amateur detective
to an American inspired private investigator, who runs the Broad
Street Detective Agency, but The Case of the Three Lost Letters
is a pure, old-fashioned detective story. Travers has to figure out
who of the three visitors killed a client he didn't like in the first
place. One of my favorites from this period in the series.
Case of the Russian Cross (1957) by Christopher Bush
fine example of late-period Bush and how he adapted to the changes of
the post-war era, which here comes in the guise of three, apparently
unconnected, routine cases coming together – culminating in murder.
Very much recommended to long-time fans of the series.
Case of the Treble Twist (1958) by Christopher Bush
short, classy and fast-paced private eye novel and another fine
example of late-period Bush with their grounded, trimmed down plots
and more emphasis on characterization.
5 False Suicides (2021) by James Scott Byrnside
three historical locked room mysteries featuring his two 1920s
detectives, Rowan Manory and Walter Williams, Byrnside decided to try
his hands at "some stand-alone, crazy-ass piece of pulp."
That's no false advertising. Byrnside's pulp-style mystery has
everything from a family curse and a Hungarian mystic to a series of
impossible murders among a group of detective fans on Blood Island.
Makes Murder (1943) by Harriette R. Campbell
weirdly structured, but very well characterized and plotted mystery
novel which begins as something straight out of John Dickson Carr or
Paul Halter. A man is attempting to train his 5-year-old son in the
black arts, which unsurprisingly leads to murder. The investigation
itself is more procedural, but the clues and red herrings are golden.
A commendable novel from one of those long-forgotten and overlooked
Crooked Hinge (1938) by John Dickson Carr (a
pulpiest of pulp murders presented and resolved as a proper, fair
play detective story involving a possible strain of witchcraft, an
impossible throat cutting and a damaged, time-worn automaton, The
Golden Hag – which one comment accurately described as nightmare
fuel. Not one of Carr's classic takes on the impossible crime story,
but you have to admire how he made an outlandish, pulp-style mystery
work as a straight detective story. There have been few men and
women, then or now, who gets what makes a detective story tick like
Author is Dead (2022) by A. Carver
impressive, self-published debut with an ambitious, multi-layered and
entangled plot with a galore of impossible disappearances and murders
in locked room. The story lacks some polish and fine-tuning, but an
impressive and ambitious debut nonetheless. Something comparable to
James Scott Byrnside. I look forward to discover what Carver has in
store for us next year.
in the Clouds (1935) by Agatha Christie (a reread)
strangely overlooked, openly declared impossible crime novel from no
less a figure than the Queen of Crime herself. Christie gently pokes
fun at the detective story's exotic, pulpier cousins, the thriller,
but, as to be expected, she provided a satisfying solution to the
problem how someone could have shot a poison-smeared dart out of
blowpipe inside small, fully occupied airplane. A fantastic Hercule
Poirot's Christmas (1938) by Agatha Christie (a
mistakenly stated in the past that the Christmas country house
mystery never produced a genuine classic, but I had forgotten how
good Christie's definitive take on it really is. A mystery novel that
should be regarded as our genre's A Christmas Carol.
De Klerck en een dodelijk pact (Inspector De
Klerck and a Deadly Pact, 2022) by P. Dieudonné
fun, pulp-style take on the normally down-to-earth, Dutch
politieroman as frozen bodies turn up all over the country with a
dead, brightly colored frogs on their head. The number seven is all
the over the plot, a nursery rhyme plays an important part and
there's an additional mystery of a Swiss-style chalet that
disappeared over night.
(1935) by Brian Flynn
thoroughly British takes on the American detective of S.S. van Dine
and Ellery Queen concerning cryptically-worded ads and threats, a
Jacobite collection and a practically perfect murder with six
collectors as the primary suspects. One of my ten, or so, favorite
masque du vampire (The Mask of the Vampire, 2014) by
candidate for the bottom five of my top 10 favorite Halter mysteries,
which twists, and turns, two storylines and several plot-threads
together and contains numerous impossible situations, locked room
murders and ghostly manifestations – like a murderer who's seen
disappearing up a chimney as a cloud of smoke. Another imaginative,
dark flight of fancy from Halter.
for the Dawn (1946) by Eric Harding
unconventional detective story disguised as an adventurous,
pulp-style thriller set on an isolated island where a group of people
find themselves trapped in a dark, lonely house with a murderer among
them. A murderer who may be an undead witch doctor who had stirred
from his glass coffin in the house. If you loved Theodore Roscoe's
on the Way! (1935), you'll enjoy Pray for the Dawn.
(2017) by Robert Innes
felt conflicted whether, or not, to include Ripples, because it's a
short story with romance padding and you need to endure one in order
to enjoy the other. The plot involving a hooded murderer who
apparently walked across water to get to his victim in the middle of
a lake is too good to be left out.
Julius Caesar Murder Case (1935) by Wallace Irwin
completely tongue-in-cheek, self-aware parody of the pulp-style
detective story and an early example of the now popular historical
mystery novel in which Publius Manlius "Mannie" Scribo, of the
Evening Tiber, investigates the murder of Julius Caesar –
who's stabbed to the dead under apparently impossible circumstances.
This is really a second-string mystery ("papyrus pulp")
pretending to be a first-rate historical detective novel and getting
away with it on charm alone.
Names Make Clues (1937) by E.C.R. Lorac
Edwards and the British Library Crime Classics continue to
rehabilitate Lorac's reputation by cherry picking some of her best,
but regrettably obscure and long out-of-print detective novels. Chief
Inspector Robert Macdonald is called to Caroline House where a
treasure hunt, on April Fools' Day, provided an opportunity for
murder. Very much worth of being resurrected.
in the Belfry (1937) by E.C.R. Lorac
having some of Lorac's usual flaws, Bats in the Belfry is one
of her best detective novels turning on that age-old problem of how
to get rid of a body. Lorac had her own ideas about the detective
story and how to tell it, which had varying degrees of success, but
this one definitely can be chalked up as one of her success stories.
Island (2021) by D.L. Marshall
impressive hybrid of the classic detective story, contemporary
thriller and claustrophobic spy tale set on an island where
experiments were carried out during the Second World War, which
rendered the place dangerous and inhabitable – teeming with mutant
spores. The only pockets of habitability comprises of a small cluster
of orange cabins forming a research base, but someone gets murdered
under inexplicable circumstances and a body disappears. You can call
me bias, if you want, but this is how you write a thriller! I really
liked the post-apocalyptic aesthetics of the story.
shikabane no shi (Death of the Living Dead,
1989) by Yamaguchi Masaya
fascinating and imaginative hybrid mystery populating the
traditional, fair play detective story with the living dead who
normally can be found stumbling through the horror genre. These are
not your typical, mindlessly wandering zombies who want to snack on
your brains, but simply dead people with the same mental
capabilities, personality and memories as when they were alive. So
that's a real game changer as Masaya brilliantly ties together the
motives of the living and dead together with "a
Punk Ellery Queen living in an otherworldly Wrightsville"
caught in the middle. I'm dismayed and disappointed at how little
attention Death of the Living Dead has received since it's
(2005) by Jack McDevitt
Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath series is pure science-fiction and
deals with two antique dealers from the far-flung future tracking
down long-lost, space-age artifacts often requiring them to solve a
historical mystery. Technically, the series is a distant cousin of
the detective story and can be read as a kind of hybrid mystery.
Seeker is not only brilliant where the central puzzle is concerned,
but it's almost as good as James P. Hogan's Inherit
the Stars (1977).
Mummy Case Mystery (1933) by Dermot Morrah
amateur detective story, in the truest sense of the word, driven by
pure academic curiosity involving a deadly fire, a dead Egyptologist
and a long-dead mummy that went missing. Not a perfectly plotted
detective story, but a thoroughly enjoyable and amusing academic
mystery from the 1930s.
Red Death Murders (2022) by Jim Noy
very own Jim Noy, of The
Invisible Event, penned a historical detective novel that
re-imagined Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death"
(1842) as the bastard child of John Dickson Carr and Paul Doherty,
which is set in the middle of a deadly epidemic – crammed with
ingeniously-contrived, seemingly impossible murders. The Red Death
Murders is a love letter to the genre from a fan who's obviously
a better writer than critic. ;)
to Kill (1974) by Roger Ormerod
short and sweet debut from a writer who would go on to carry the
Golden Age detective story into the second-half of the previous
century, but gave the whole thing a modern touch. Ormerod's first
stab at the genre is a semi-inverted mystery in which the murderer's
identity is crystal clear, but the only problem is that David Mallin
handed him an unshakable alibi. A solid debut full with promise!
Manuscript Murder (1933) by Lewis George Robinson
detective novels with all the familiar ingredients from Robinson's
previous and later mysteries, The
Medbury Fort Murder (1929) and The
General Goes Too Far (1936), but The Manuscript Murder
is Robinson's best treatment of quasi-inverted mystery with an army
is for Zombie (1937) by Theodore Roscoe
returns to the locality of Murder on the Way!, Haiti, where
the living, once more, have to contend with the dead apparently
rising from their graves, but there's a big difference between the
two. Murder on the Way! is a roller coaster of insanity, while
Z is for Zombie is more like a haunted house ride.
Nonetheless, it's an excellent and imaginative piece of pulp fiction.
Theodore Roscoe really was the John Dickson Carr of the pulps.
(Murder in a Peking
Studio, 1976) by
historical mystery that takes place on the eve of the
Russo-Japanese War and the first-half is heavy on historical content,
which is a necessary bit of world-building to lay the foundation for
the second-half. The second-half features a murder in a locked studio
with a poison-smeared dagger and the impossible disappearance of a
big sum of money. A strangely forgotten, long out-of-print
translation that's more interesting today than it was first
published, because it also makes for interesting comparison material
Yokomizo and Soji
Aura (1974) by John Sladek (a reread)
of only two locked room mysteries written by a well-known
science-fiction author, John Sladek, which both became classics of
the form and impossible crime fans have been bickering ever since
which one is the superior locked room mystery. My vote goes to Black
Aura. A brilliantly written and plotted mystery, in which Sladek's
detective, Thackeray Phin, ingratiates himself into Mrs. Viola Webb's
Aetheric Mandala Society – who all live together in a commune.
Strange things happen in the house Mrs. Webb like people miraculously
vanishing from locked rooms or getting themselves murdered while
levitating in mid-air. A classic of its kind!
Green (1977) by John Sladek (a reread)
fan favorite and better, much, much better than I remembered from my
first read. Thackeray Phin becomes involved with the six surviving
members of a 1930s murder-of-the-month club, the Seven Unravellers,
when a reunion is planned and one of the members believes he's being
targeted. This naturally leads to a baffling, seemingly impossible
murder. I prefer the elaborate, grandiosely staged Black Aura,
but I can admit Invisible Green has subtlety and simply told
the story instead of playing to the crowd. But their both classic
locked room mysteries.
Scarlet Circle (1943) by Jonathan Stagge
Talisman is a small, seaside town that's slowly being reclaimed by
the sea where graves are being opened under the light of paper
lanterns, which become harbingers of death when a serial killer
begins to prowl the cape. A top-notch mystery that went a long way in
redeeming this series.
Hangman's Handyman (1942) by Hake Talbot (a
dark, desolate and tiny island where the dead rotted away at
supernatural speed and people get attacked in locked rooms by
something smooth, slimy and impalpable. This is remarkable debut of a
mystery writer who combined, to quote Robert Adey, "Carr's flair
for atmosphere and the bizarre with Rawson's magic tricks." But
not to be overlooked is the brilliant way in which he introduced his
short-lived detective, Rogan Kincaid. A character who shows Talbot
ever so slightly leaned towards the pulps.
of the Pit (1944) by Hake Talbot (a reread)
of the best-known, illustrious impossible crime novels ever written
and often compared to the best locked room mysteries by John Dickson
Carr, which is why it towers over its predecessor. Talbot created
genuine terror of a house under siege from apparently other worldly
entities and strung together a whole pack of seemingly impossible
situations, but I think it earned its reputation solely on its
masterly showmanship rather than the quality of the impossible
crimes. But what a show!
Friendly Drop (1931) by Henry Wade
classical, 1930s whodunit presented as a typical, almost idyllic,
country house mystery, but there's so much more to this strongly
characterized, subtly plotted detective story that turned into a
human tragedy during its closing stages – driving home an ending
befitting a genuine classic. A sign that the fire that had been lit
in the twenties was beginning to roar.
Exit (1941) by Anthony Wynne
outbreak of World War II had a sobering effect on Wynne, because the
out-of-date, Victorian-era melodrama, terse writing and flat
characterization of The
Silver Scale Mystery (1931) and The
Green Knife (1932) are conspicuously absent in Emergency
Exit – which makes way for a soberly told, characterized and
capably plotted detective story. A solid, intriguing and mature WWII
mystery showing a different side of Wynne.
(Death on Gokumon Island, 1947/48) by
first-rate detective tale that has been called "the
most respected Japanese mystery novel" and had been a
resident of my wishlist ever since reading Inugamike
no ichizoku (The Inugami Clan, 1951), which made this
eagerly anticipated a real treat. The story drips with local color,
culture and history intricately threaded into a plot crammed with
bizarre, strange murders and clues. I need more of this.
felt a pang of guilt for not including Tom Mead's locked room
and the Conjuror (2022), which is another debut stringing
together impossible crimes, but not as good as the previously listed
debuts by A. Carver and Jim Noy. However, I consider it to be Mead's
It Walks by Night (1930) and I'm more than willing to give him
the time to craft a modern-day equivalent of The
Three Coffins (1935). Another honorable mention goes to
Horatio Winslow and Leslie Quirk's Into
Thin Air (1928/29), which is one of the earliest mystery
novels presenting the reader with a parade of miracle crimes. Not a
classic, but an interesting title nonetheless. Lastly, I want to
direct your attention to my frequent reviews of manga mysteries like
Kindaichi Case Files and Q.E.D.
I normally leave them out of these yearly best-of lists, because
they're bloated enough as it's.
WORST AND MOST DISAPPOINTING READS OF 2022 (NOVELS):
Sharp Quillet (1947) by Brian Flynn
one began promising enough with a very unusual, tantalizing prologue
and even weirder murders, but Flynn made a mess of the plot and not
at all representative of this talented, unjustly forgotten writer.
Unfortunately, The Sharp Quillet used to be one of the easiest
to find on the secondhand book market. So you can probably blame it
for Flynn's dramatic tumble into obscurity.
King's Club Murder (1930) by Ian Greig
absolute obscurity that began as promising, second-string detective
novel, before turning into a badly dated, third-rate pursuit
thriller. A very slow, lethargic pursuit thriller. A piece of
documentary evidence why some writers have not stood the test of
of a Tall Man (1946) by Frances and Richard Lockridge
detective story riddled with botched and missed opportunity or good
ideas that were poorly executed. And the whole story is extremely
forgettable. I came across the review when cobbling together this
list and had no recollection of reading the story or writing the
(2010) by Jack McDevitt
in 2021, I began making excursions into science-fiction with
McDevitt's series of futuristic-historical and archaeological space
mysteries peaking with the previously mentioned Seekers. Echo
occupies the opposite end of that spectrum that undermines the
world-building of the preceding novels, an ending that wanted it both
ways and an epilogue that really didn't help matters.
Age Locked Room Mysteries (2022) edited by Otto
coming from the most annoying locked room fanboy around, but this
anthology has a selection of stories that's both disappointing and
repetitive with eight of fourteen stories having appeared in previous
locked room anthologies. And the overall quality of the series leaves
a lot to be desired.
BEST SHORT STORIES READ IN 2022 (COLLECTIONS):
Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka
(1966) by Josef Skvorecky
Case of the Horizontal Trajectory"
Mother, the Detective (1997/2016) by James Yaffe
Makes a Bet"
Makes a Wish"
and the Haunted Mink"
The World's Greatest Criminal—Or Most Outrageous Liar (2003)
by Gerald Kersh
and the Meter"
and the Gorgeous Robes"
Thief Who Played Thiel"
Stories (2016) by MORI Hiroshi
no ongaeshi" ("The Girl Who Was the Little Bird")
no yane kazan" ("The Rooftop Ornaments of Stone Ratha")
ga majo" ("Which is the Witch?")
Further Misadventures of Ellery Queen (2020)
D. Hoch's "The Circle of Ink"
Tiān's "The Japanese Armor Mystery"
Porges' "The Indian Diamond Mystery"
in the Fog (2020) by Edward D. Hoch
in the Fog"
Avenger from Outer Space"
Way Up to Hades"
Withers: Final Riddles? (2021) by Stuart Palmer
Angels Fear to Tread"
Bet Your Life"
Withers is Back"
Plays It Calm"
BEST SHORT STORIES READ IN 2022 (SINGLES):
Dickson Carr's "The
Other Hangman" (1935)
Scarecrow Murders" (1948)
Audiophile Murder Case" (1982)
Riddle of the Whirling Lights" (1935)