Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Countdown Begins: The Passing Tramp's 2013 Best Books Blogged

Well, it's time again to pick the best crime novels reviewed this year on the blog.  I think I reviewed 72 works of mystery fiction this year, mostly novels published before 1960, as well as some books about mystery fiction.

Were there some disappointing novels reviewed here this year?  Sure, like Theodora DuBois' Death Is Late to Lunch, Doriel Hay's Murder Underground, Ed McBain's Jigsaw and the late Robert Barnard's The Corpse at the Haworth Tandoori, but I won't dwell on the disappointments.

So, without further ado, here are numbers 20-16:

20. I'll Tell You Everything (1933), by J. B. Priestley and Gerald Bullett (reviewed 8 March)

An affectionate and humorous pastiche of English Golden Age thrillers, this novel is about a Cambridge lecturer and the strange adventures that befall him after he meets an odd Italian professor urging him to accept an iron casket holding the bones and ashes of the Iron Prophet, Yann.

Both Priestley and Bullett were well-regarded English mainstream writers who made additional contributions to the crime fiction genre that are well worth looking up.

19. Murder in Maryland (1932), by Leslie Ford (reviewed 4 June)

With a strong sense of place, bright writing and an excellent narrator, a middle-aged woman doctor, Murder in Maryland is a well-crafted exercise in genteel American mystery, despite some condescending portrayals of African-Americans, unfortunately an issue with this author.  Her Maryland will be a bit too much "old South" for some readers in the age of Paula Deen and Duck Dynasty.

18. The Curved Blades (1916), by Carolyn Wells (reviewed 31 October)

Classic American murder at a country house party, with the victim a nasty rich woman who spends the first chapter giving everyone around her reasons to kill her.

For once Wells eschews improbable locked rooms, leaving the reader with a tricky and bizarre murder problem (the victim is found dead with a smile on her face and a Japanese paper snake wrapped around her neck).  Wells' Great Detective Fleming Stone falls in love, rather tiresomely, but you can ignore that and concentrate on clues.

17.  Southern Electric Murder (1938), by F. J. Whaley (reviewed 21 June)

As this title indicates this is a dense English murder mystery of railway movements and times.  It makes use of a real railway line that runs from Victoria Station, London to Brighton, Sussex, and many of the stations in it are still in existence today.  A great book for those who like to concentrate on a meaty murder problem (and for those who love railroads).

16. Written in Blood (1994), by Caroline Graham (reviewed 19 February)

A great wickedly satirical English village mystery--one might call it a curdled cozy--at which Caroline Graham most definitely excelled (her books inspired the seemingly never-ending British television mystery series Midsomer Murders). Some splendidly unlikable characters (Sergeant Troy, whom I described in the original review as "a boorish, sexist homophobe" and Brian Clapton, surely one of the most repulsive creatures in crime fiction) and a fairly-clued solution that is withal a genuine surprise.

I don't rate it higher because of its excessive length and over-the-top finale (written with TV in mind?), but it's a fine modern English mystery.

Fifteen more to go!  Are you as excited as I am?

Even if you're not (perish the thought!), be sure to check in tomorrow for Nos. 15-11.


  1. Five interesting books. I have read Written in Blood (and the rest of the series) but now you make me want to reread it. I had forgotten the type of character that Sergeant Troy is. He is a bit toned down in the Midsomer Murders TV series, but I like how different he is from Barnaby.

  2. Troy is pretty awful in the books, although he can be funny too. I still need to read some of the later Graham books.

  3. I know you were disappointed with Mavis Dorial Hay's "Murder Underground" but her "The Santa Klaus Murder" has probably been my read of the year. I'm very much looking forward to the reissues of "Murder Underground" and "Death On The Cherwell" next year.

  4. Carl, I have Death on the Cherwell, but based on Murder Underground have not been in any hurry to read it! I think it has a couple of the same characters. Everyone seems to like The Santa Claus Murder, however, so I may give that one a try. I like classic English mystery (surprise I know) but MU just didn't do it for me, I'm afraid. There's always Annie Haynes, though!