Earlier this year I posted Saturday Review mystery critic Judge Lynch's list of the best novels of 1939. Here, without further ado, is the sequel, his list for 1938:
The Fashion in Shrouds (Doubleday, Doran), Margery Allingham
Albert Campion at his shrewdest as a sleuth, glittering background of London gown-shops and gaudy restaurants, galaxy of interesting characters and first-calls writing.
Fast Company (Dodd, Mead), Marco Page
Tough goings-on in the rare-book biz, a detective--and his wife--who can deduce and wisecrack at top-speed, dialogue that crackles and an A-1 puzzle.
The Crooked Hinge (Harpers), John Dickson Carr
Aura of supernatural around quite mundane but mystifying murder of claimant to old English estate adds triple zest to marvelously well-spun puzzle for adipose Dr. Fell.
Murder on Safari (Harpers), Elspeth Huxley
Complete education in big-game hunting (African); delightful obnoxious tycoons--American and English; robbery, murder, and a jungleful of excitement.
Lament for a Maker (Dodd, Mead), Michael Innes
Eerie Scottish castle houses eccentric laird who goes boomp over battlements. Continuously creepy chapters lead to totally unexpected ending and all is braw--but for the tale-bearing rats.
Death from a Top Hat (Putnam), Clayton Rawson
Ex-Magicker Merlini manipulates coins while solving strange deaths of occultist and card-trickster. Huge amounts of fascinating facts on magicians, much humor, and a hurricane finish.
A Puzzle in Poison (Doubleday, Doran), Anthony Berkeley
Death--by arsenic--of retired English engineer brings numerous nice people under suspicion. Detectives clear them all but an amateur comes to conclusion that leaves reader agasp.
The Wall (Farrar & Rinehart), Mary Roberts Rinehart
Divorcee, lurking round ex-husband's seaside home, slain with gold club. Other deaths, and romance, follow--all satisfactorily solved in spite of clues left hanging.
Warrant for X (Doubleday, Doran), Philip Macdonald
American playwright on London holiday overhears plot, almost gets bumped off before Anthony Gethryn, in class A comeback, nails plotters.
I have read all of these, but the Marco Page novel, which in its day was very popular and also successfully filmed. I will be writing about one next week (I think you can guess which).
How many have you read? What do you think of the judge's list? I think it stands up pretty well, though there are some notable omissions. No Agatha Christie (Appointment with Death, Hercule Poirot's Christmas), most obviously, and no Rex Stout (Too Many Cooks); they wouldn't make it in 1939 either.
On the other hand, Innes, Carr and Rawson made it both years. Men predominate, accounting for six of nine titles, while Brits outnumber Americans 5-4. Only one of the novels really has any affinity with the hard-boiled school (or maybe two, come to think of it, the Page and the Macdonald; the latter man had been living for some time in the United States, where he had moved to work on Hollywood screenplays).
Overall, my impression from this list is that 1938 was a very good year in crime!