Looking for books to read I: Mysteries

(Continued in Part II: Not mysteries)

What’s a chap to do?

I’ve read, at this stage, more than a thousand detective stories. What else out there in the genre is worth reading?

The light on the horizon at the moment seems to be the reprint of Patrick Quentin / Q. Patrick / Jonathan Stagge.

On my bookshelves / Kindle, I have:

  • Herbert Adams: The Body in the Bunker; The Chief Witness; Death of a Viewer
  • Max Afford: Blood on His Hands; The Dead Are Blind; Death’s Mannikins; Owl of Darkness; The Sheep and the Wolves; Sinners in Paradise
  • Frederick Irving Anderson: Book of Murder; The Purple Flame
  • James Anderson: The Affair of the Mutilated Mink; The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks

(I was disappointed by Blood-stained Egg-cosy – I knew whodunnit fairly early on)

  • K.K. Beck: Death in a Deck Chair; Peril Under the Palms

(didn’t think much of Murder in a Mummy Case)

  • Josephine Bell: The Catalyst; Pigeon Among the Cats; The Upfold Witch; The Wilberforce Legacy
  • Nicholas Brady: Ebenezer Investigates; The Fair Murder; The House of Strange Guests; Week-End Murder
  • Lynn Brock: The Dagwort Coombe Murder; The Kink; The Silver Sickle Case; The Slip-Carriage Mystery
  • Christopher Bush: TCOT Corporal’s Leave, Fighting Soldier, Missing Men, Murdered Major
  • Max Allan Collins: The London Blitz Murders; The Lusitania Murders
  • J.J. Connington: No Past Is Dead; Tom Tiddler’s Island
  • Freeman Wills Crofts: Antidote to Venom
  • William L. DeAndrea: Killed in the Ratings
  • Todd Downing: The Lazy Lawrence Murders
  • J. Jefferson Farjeon: Mystery in White (started, put down); The Z Murders
  • A.E. Fielding: The Charteris Mystery; The Cluny Problem; Scarecrow; The Wedding-Chest Mystery

(I’ve read three mediocre ones by her)

  • Hulbert Footner: The Complete Mme Storey Mysteries
  • Robin Forsythe: The Ginger Cat Mystery; Missing or Murdered; Murder on Paradise Island; The Spirit Murder Mystery

(I really enjoyed The Polo Ground Mystery, but found The Pleasure Cruise Mystery talky and obvious)

  • Jacques Futrelle: The Thinking Machine

(read a dozen or so)

  • Anthony Gilbert: Death at Four Corners; The Man in Button Boots; The Man Who Wasn’t There; Murder Has No Tongue; Night Encounter; An Old Lady Dies; Something Nasty in the Woodshed; Treason in My Breast

(very uneven writer)

  • Elizabeth Gill: Crime de Luxe

(first two are pleasant reading, but not outstanding)

  • William Gore: There’s Death in the Churchyard

(Murder Most Artistic was only so-so)

  • Annie Haynes: The Abbey Court Murder; The Blue Diamond; The Bungalow Mystery; The Crime at Tattenham Corner; The Crow’s Inn Tragedy; The Crystal Beads Murder; The House in Charlton Crescent; The Man with the Dark Beard; The Master of the Priory; The Secret of Greylands; The Witness on the Roof

(are these worth reading? Who Killed Charmian Karslake was a flop)

  • Anthony Horowitz: The Magpie Murders

(started, put down again – surprising, given I enjoy his Poirot episodes and Foyle’s War)

  • Ianthe Jerrold: There May Be Danger
  • M.M. Kaye: Death in Berlin; Death in Cyprus; Death in Kashmir; Death in Kenya; Death in Zanzibar

(exotic settings plus apparently fair-play puzzle plot mysteries?)

  • Milward Kennedy: Half-Mast Murder
  • Rufus King: Diagnosis: Murder; The Lesser Antilles Case; Murder on the Yacht; Secret Beyond the Door

(I’ve read half a dozen of his books – badly written, and artificially tense)

  • Charles Kingston: The Highgate Mystery
  • Ronald Knox: Double Cross Purposes; Still Dead

(Knox wrote some of the dullest and most anti-climactic detective stories, and is infernally talky – but “Solved by Inspection” is a little masterpiece.  Is Still Dead the one with the body on the train tracks and the engine driver with second sight?)

  • Jonathan Latimer: Headed for a Hearse; The Lady in the Morgue
  • Szu-Yen Lin: Death in the House of Rain
  • Vernon Loder: Choose Your Weapon; Death at the Horse Show; Death at the Wheel; Death by the Gaff; Death of an Editor; The Essex Murders; The Little Man Murders; Murder from Three Angles; Red Stain; The Shop Window Murders; Two Dead; Whose Hand?

(are these more than generic mysteries? I gave up on The Mystery at Stowe)

  • E.C.R. Lorac: Case in the Clinic
  • A.G. Macdonell: Body Found Stabbed
  • Helen McCloy: The Long Body

(McCloy always WRITES well, even when her plots are ropy)

  • L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace: The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings
  • Stuart Palmer: Four Lost Ladies; The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree
  • Winifred Peck: Arrest the Bishop; The Warrielaw Jewel
  • Melville Davisson Post: The Strange Crimes of Randolph Mason

(is it blasphemy to say that I hated Uncle Abner? Oldtime religious fundamentalism and pro-slavery)

  • E.R. Punshon: The Attending Truth; Dark is the Clue; The Golden Dagger; The House of Godwinsson; Music Tells All; The Secret Search; So Many Doors; Strange Ending
  • Clayton Rawson: The Great Merlini

(short stories; I enjoyed the novels)

  • John Rhode, as Miles Burton: Death in the Tunnel
  • Harriet Rutland: Blue Murder
  • M.G. Scarsbrook: Dream of the Dead
  • C. St. John Sprigg: The Corpse with the Sunburned Face; Fatality in Fleet Street
  • T.S. Stribling: Dr. Poggioli: Criminologist

(supposed to be good, but I have to read the first volume)

  • Phoebe Atwood Taylor: The Cape Cod Mystery; Murder at the New York World’s Fair
  • Theodore Roscoe: I’ll Grind Their Bones

(Murder on the Way! started well, but turned into proto-Tarantino)

  • Edgar Wallace
  • Carolyn Wells: The Room with the Tassles; The Man Who Fell Through the Earth; In the Onyx Lobby; The Come Back; The Luminous Face; The Vanishing of Betty Varian; The Gold Bag; A Chain of Evidence; The Mark of Cain; The Diamond Pin; Raspberry Jam; The Mystery Girl

(am I that desperate?)

Any other suggestions?

I have read the complete works of:

  • Margery Allingham
  • H.C. Bailey (bar one novel)
  • Anthony Berkeley
  • Nicholas Blake
  • Dorothy Bowers
  • John Dickson Carr
  • G.K. Chesterton
  • Agatha Christie
  • Edmund Crispin
  • Colin Dexter
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Cyril Hare
  • Georgette Heyer
  • Reginald Hill
  • Michael Innes
  • P.D. James
  • H.R.F. Keating
  • Ngaio Marsh
  • A.E.W. Mason
  • Gladys Mitchell
  • Ellery Queen
  • Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Josephine Tey
  • S.S. Van Dine
  • Henry Wade

and most of:

  • Anthony Boucher
  • Ernest Bramah
  • Christianna Brand
  • G.D.H. & M. Cole
  • J.J. Connington
  • Christopher Fowler (first half-dozen)
  • R. Austin Freeman
  • Michael Gilbert
  • Paul Halter
  • Ruth Rendell
  • Julian Symons

And about a hundred John Rhodes.

Favourite detective writers: G.K. Chesterton, John Dickson Carr, Agatha Christie, Gladys Mitchell, Nicholas Blake, and Edmund Crispin

Apart from Christie and Carr, favourite detective stories include The Father Brown Stories, the first four Michael Innes novels, Reginald Hill’s On Beulah Height, Gladys Mitchell’s Come Away, Death, and half a dozen by Christianna Brand.  I lean strongly towards the witty, imaginative, literate detective story – but also want a really baffling mystery.

I don’t particularly like Leo Bruce (formulaic and plagiaristic), Elizabeth Daly, or Rex Stout (formulaic again; no story, atmosphere, or characterisation, plus anti-climactic solutions).

Mary Fitt and Peter Dickinson are imaginative, but too wayward to be successful detective writers. (And I say this as a committed – in more ways than one – Gladys Mitchell enthusiast.)

25 thoughts on “Looking for books to read I: Mysteries

  1. Well, as anyone who reads my blog will know, I heartily recommend Brian Flynn were he not next to impossible to locate. With the exception of Conspiracy At Angel, the book that Barzun had the misfortune to try, I’ve enjoyed everything so far with The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye and Tread Softly being the highlights. Oh, and don’t judge him just on his opener, The Billiard Room Mystery, which has an issue that I won’t go into for fear of spoilers…


  2. So much to talk about in this post, so forgive the long comment! To begin with the ones mentioned in your list:
    I enjoyed Blood on His Hands by Afford and the trilogy by Anderson. Less keen on Josephine Bell, quite a mixed output. Only read Nightmare by Lynn Brock, but I felt it was a good one. I thought Mystery in White to be a strong effort by Farjeon so he might not be the writer for you. Seven Dead is his best detective novel with some thriller-ish input. The Z Murders is an out and out thriller and Thirteen Guests is a pure detective story but not as good in my opinion. Only read one by Fielding and found it very dull, so agree with you there. My favourite Forsythe novel is The Spirit Murder Mystery, the “talky” element very much under control. Haynes’ writing style merges sensation fiction elements with the GAD style, so if you don’t like that then she might not be the writer for you. The Crime at Tattenham Corner is a strong entry if my memory serves me correctly. I’ve read a few Kaye novels and they were okay, but they didn’t strike me as puzzle plot mysteries. Blue Murder is the best of Rutland’s novels so I hope you enjoy it too. Ianthe Jerrod’s – There May Be Danger, is her least puzzle-y plot so I would recommend reading one of her three others. Dead Man’s Quarry and Let Him Lie are her best in my opinion.

    It’s hard to know what to recommend a person who has read all of Berkeley! (Seriously – not fair lol) So here are a few ideas of authors and/or titles to have a look at. Not sure if they will all be your cup of tea but they might give you a new direction.
    June Wright
    Delano Ames
    Joan Coggins
    Juanita Sheridan
    Doris Miles Disney – Family Skeleton (1949)
    Yolanda Foldes – Mind Your Own Murder (1948) (Good luck finding this one!)
    Francis Beeding – The Norwich Victims (1935)
    Pamela Branch – The Wooden Overcoat (1951)
    Fredric Brown – Night of Jabberwock (1950) (Literary allusion in here works well, but not overdone. Very clever puzzle)
    Henry Cecil – The Asking Price (1966)
    Patricia Carlon – The Whispering Wall
    Augusto De Angelis
    Andrew Garve – No Tears for Hilda (1950)
    Anthony Gilbert – Death Knocks Three Times (1949)
    Richard Hull – Murder Isn’t Easy (1936) and Keep it Quiet (1935)
    Alan Melville – Death of Anton (1936)
    Enter Murderers (1960) Henry Slesar


    1. Cool! Thanks for the suggestions. I’ve read the Richard Hulls reprinted in Penguin.

      Which Anthony Berkeleys haven’t you read? He’s uneven. At times brilliant – The Poisoned Chocolates Gem is STUNNING: simply one of the cleverest detective stories ever written, and funny into the bargain! Then there’s The Piccadilly Murder, Top Storey Murder, Jumping Jenny, and Trial and Error – all urbane, witty, and ingenious.
      If you haven’t read The Wychford Poisoning Case, don’t. Misogynistic, sadistic, and anticlimactic!


      1. Looking at his bibliography I’ve read more by him than I realised. Not read The Wychford Poisoning Case having been warned off. Also not read Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery, Top Storey Murder, Panic party, As For the Women and Cicely Disappears.


  3. Max Afford’s Owl of Darkness is exactly as loopy as it sounds, and it seems to me like you need a little fun in you reading life. I’d recommend that out of what you have waiting that I’ve read. Or, failing that, go for Ice Station by Matthew Reilly, which is the precise opposite of everything you’ve listed in these two posts — I’d love your thoughts on that one 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been meaning to try Max Afford properly. I know you’re a big fan!

      I read a couple of his short stories – and one of them was lifted from a Carter Dickson!


      1. Ha, yeah, one is a total steal…though i can believe Afford developed it independently rather than just nicked it. His best novels — The Dead Are Blind, Owl of Darkness, Blood on His Hands — show a great creativity in many regards, and some of his plotting is delightfully sly and quick on its feet. He was definitely a Carr fan (arent we all?), however, because Death’s Mannikins is a straight Carr homage with an equally brilliant setup. The answers migbt disappoint, but the setup and atmosphere are gorgeous.


      2. I’ll have to get a print copy of Owl in Darkness. Mine is a horrible Kindle edition, where the text is on a beige background. Not made for reading ease!


  4. Honestly, you’re much more well-read than me, so I doubt I could be of much help. Nevertheless:

    Have you tried short stories? Crippen and Landru publishes collections of them, and Edward D. Hoch is a personal favorite of mine, although I admit it might be because he was one of the first “true” mystery writers I read. But he’s solid. Locked Room International also has The Ginza Ghost, a collection of short stories that I’ve heard is quite good, and has a surreal bent to them.

    Maybe try some more modern mysteries? I’ve seen The Puzzle Doctor recommend Paul Doherty, Martin Edwards, and Kate Ellis. That might be good.

    Keigo Higashino is one I’ve actually read. I liked The Devotion of Suspect X, Salvation for a Saint, and Malice.

    I’l also go back to what I mentioned a few months ago and suggest you try the Ace Attorney games. The first three have been released for everything under the sun, so I’m sure you could find something.

    Speaking of lawyers, try the Perry Mason novels? They might not be to your taste however, I’m not overly familiar with them.

    Hope this helped a bit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know Crippen & Landru… 😉

      I read Ginza Ghost earlier this year. It’s great that detective stories from other cultures are being printed in English, but it wasn’t much to my taste. It’s very much a collection for purists. Ingenious, but too dry.

      I’ve read a couple of those writers.

      Keizo Higashino might be interesting, too!


  5. Hi Nick! It must be daunting indeed to find new and exciting classic mysteries yet to be discovered by such an encyclopaedic reader as you. I’m looking forward to the Q. Patrick reprints also, and I have two Jonathan Stagge mysteries waiting on my bookshelf. I remember William DeAndrea’s Azrael being very exciting when I read it at 14, so want to revisit his spy series as an adult to see whether it holds up…

    Have you read any Winifred Blazey yet? I feel like you have, but I can’t recall your reaction. I was very impressed wtih Dora Beddoe, the story of an unremarkable woman who changes after unwarranted suspicion falls on her for her mother’s death. Indian Rain especially impressed me, although not a crime story. I haven’t read The Crouching Hill, which is Blazey’s recognized mystery novel, and one that Gladys Mitchell had encouraged her to write.

    I have about five Richard Hull (The Murder of My Aunt) books left to read; there have been some enjoyable if uneven titles of his, including And Death Came Too (1939) and Murder Isn’t Easy (1936). I see the latter is on your TBR list. Happy reading! — JH


    1. Sorry — I see the Hull title was on Kate’s suggestion list rather than your reading list, and that you’ve read the Penguin editions. As I said, it’s difficult to find something off your radar!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Oh, good point. 😛

    Shame you didn’t like Ginza, it’s next up on my list to read. Higashino is great for me, at least. I know that JJ dissented a bit with Devotion (a personal favorite) but I admit I read it early in my mystery reading which helped a bit.

    Salvation has an impossible crime but it lacks the punch of Devotion, and the middle section dragged for a few people, though it didn’t bother me (I read it in two days, so).

    Malice is slightly more traditional, and while it has some weak spots (shoehorned social commentary near the end), the final set of reveals is jaw-dropping. Just needed a little more cluing, in my opinion. (It’s not a locked room, don’t let the blurb fool you).

    TomCat reviewed them all positively, if that matters.

    You maybe might like the Monk tie-in novels by Lee Goldberg, at least up to Mr. Monk is Cleaned Out. Not complex puzzles (beyond maybe Mr. Monk in Trouble, but it’s been a while since I read it) but very readable.


  7. Coming late to the party, but I’m curious as to what you find “plagiaristic” about Leo Bruce. I’ve only read about a quarter of his books, so I may just not be familiar with the works that inspired that view.


    1. It’s been a decade since I bothered with Bruce, but I remember plots lifted from Carr, Christie, Berkeley, and Richard Hull, among others.


      1. Interesting… maybe I just haven’t read the “right” ones yet. I have a half-dozen unread Bruces lying around – I will have to keep an eye out as I go through them. Of course, I’ll also have to have read whatever book inspired him!


  8. Oh, and I also found Blood-Stained Egg Cosy a disappointment when I read it, but I thought Mutilated Mink was a lot better. (Interesting that when I read it way back when, the title had the word “Coat” at the end. I hope there haven’t been any other changes to the more recent editions.)


  9. C H B Kitchin. He wrote a few. Death of my Aunt is one of my favorites.
    Roy Vickers. King of the inverted.
    Rex Stout seems the obvious name. I strongly prefer the stuff from the 30s up until about 42.
    I enjoyed the “ade” trio by Walter Satterthwait. More fun pastiche than real clues though.
    Kate Ross wrote 4 books before dying young. The last is, to me anyway, crazy complicated, but I did quite like the first as a Jane Austenish mystery.


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