Stars in my eyes

Over the last week, I’ve started to introduce a new ratings system, as follows:

Five starsGreat / amazing
Four starsVery good / really liked it
Three starsGood / liked it
Two starsOK
One starPoor / didn’t like it

This is based on the Goodreads scale, and on Curt Evans’ GADderdämmerung.

Traditionally, I’ve given five-star / “A” ratings both to books that are great, and to those that are very good.

So, almost everything Sayers wrote got an “A”: Whose Body?, Unnatural Death, Documents in the Case, Strong Poison, The Five Red Herrings, Have His Carcase, Murder Must Advertise, The Nine Tailors, and Gaudy Night. Two (possibly three) of those should instead get four stars.

Similarly, a score of Christies got “A”: Ackroyd, Chimneys, Edgware, Orient Express, ABC, Mesopotamia, Cards, Nile, Christmas, And Then There Were None, Buckle My Shoe, Evil Under the Sun, Five Little Pigs, Towards Zero, A Murder is Announced, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, After the Funeral, A Pocketful of Rye, and The Pale Horse.

But Nile and Orient Express are obviously better than Chimneys or Edgware or McGinty or Rye, accomplished though those are.

Again, I’ve given “C” to average, likeable books, and to those that are mediocre. I’ve rarely given one-star reviews, even when a book has bored me, or I haven’t liked it much. That’s changing.

  1. Anything with a three-star rating or higher is worth reading.
  2. A two-star rating does not mean that a book’s bad! It’s OK.

So, examples:

Five starsDeath on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd;
Trial and Error, The Poisoned Chocolates Case;
Murder Must Advertise, The Nine Tailors;
Come Away, Death, The Devil at Saxon Wall;
Tragedy of X, Ten Days’ Wonder;
Plague Court, Red Widow, Green Capsule, The Reader is Warned;
Death at the President’s Lodging, Hamlet, Revenge!, Lament for a Maker, Stop Press;
Green for Danger, Death of Jezebel, Fog of Doubt, Tour de Force;
On Beulah Height
Four starsNot to Be Taken;
Murder, M.D.;
Dead Men’s Morris, When Last I Died, Tom Brown’s Body;
The Mad Hatter Mystery, Death-Watch, The Crooked Hinge, He Who Whispers, She Died a Lady;
Calamity Town;
Smallbone Deceased;
most Edmund Crispin;
A Mind to Murder
Three starsThe Mystery of the Blue Train, Death in the Clouds, Sparkling Cyanide;
The American Gun Mystery, Halfway House, The Four of Hearts;
To Wake the Dead, Till Death Do Us Part, The Judas Window;
Black Plumes, The China Governess;
Mystery in the Channel;
The House in Lordship Lane
Two stars4.50 from Paddington, The Clocks, At Bertram’s Hotel;
And So to Murder, The Dead Man’s Knock, Scandal at High Chimneys;
The Scarlet Letters

One starBooks I wouldn’t recommend, for various reasons. “Did not like” does not (necessarily) mean “hate”.

This is rather rough and ready; I’m working it out, and will hone it as I go.

2 thoughts on “Stars in my eyes

  1. Nick – Thanks for your blog and I look forward to the ratings. I have learned much the last three years reading your posts as well as those of John, Curtis, Sergio, Brad, Jim, Kate, Laura, TomCat, Moira, Aidan, Steve, Bev, Martin, etc. that point me to GAD titles that I otherwise never would have known. With so much GAD having been written and now increasingly in re-print, the ratings are a valuable source in steering my reading and buying choices.

    Of course everyone may not agree with the rating of a given book, but that’s what makes the blogosphere engaging as it wouldn’t be fun if we all agreed on every title. I recognise that any rating can be subjective, so what is it that you like most in the five star books listed above (i.e., the puzzle, detection, prose, characterisation, setting, pace, etc.)?


    1. Ingenuity! Not just careful construction or flawlessness, but an inspired idea – a surprise solution (who or how), and a plot that twists and glitters and explodes. And it’s not “just” ingenuity; there has also to be something else – storytelling, style, characterisation, atmosphere, humour, incident – that lifts it into the stratosphere.

      Some for superb plotting, coupled with atmosphere and edge-of-the-seat storytelling, like Rim of the Pit, or Carr’s books., or coupled with characterisation, like Brand Death on the Nile, for instance, has that ingenious hidden alibi and a beautifully handled puzzle plot, but it’s also got an exotic setting, memorable characters, and a love story.

      Some for an original premise, executed brilliantly, with a twist in the end that floors you, like Trial and Error or The Poisoned Chocolates Case.

      Some for imagination, richness of style and incident, unusually powerful scenes, a great setting (world-building, even). Dorothy L. Sayers has her advertising agency and her Fen churches. Gladys Mitchell set The Devil at Saxon Wall in a village dominated by witchcraft in the midst of a drought; in Come Away, Death, a mad archaeologist tries to re-enact the Mysteries of Eleusis, the gods seemingly manifest, and Mrs. Bradley prevents a human sacrifice; it’s a Homeric travelogue. Michael Innes’s first four, The Daffodil Affair, and From London Far are dazzling – learned and erudite, true, but very, very funny, and beautifully written. Lament for a Maker is a tour de force about a mad laird living in a rat-infested Scottish castle; each section has a different narrator; and there’s a brilliant series of false solutions.

      Some for breadth or depth; Crofts’ Cask and P.D. James’ Taste for Death are both monumental in scale. (Not sure James would appreciate being compared to Crofts!)

      Liked by 2 people

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