Saturday, April 1, 2023

First Quarter on the Block


I am woefully behind on reporting on my reading this year. In the past I have done a monthly round-up with statistics and handed out a Pick of the Month (POM) Award to the best mystery read. Here we are at April 1st and nary a POM Award in sight. Time to rectify that. Let's take a look at the overall stats for the quarter and then we'll see who the big winners for each month are for mystery fiction.

Total Books Read for the Quarter: 49
  ~I'm a bit behind my pace for last year. By the end of March 2022, I had read 67 books. Need to pick up the pace if I want to make Mount Olympus on my Mount TBR Reading Challenge!
Total Pages: 9,967
Average Rating: 3.44 stars
Top Rating: 5 stars
Percentage by Female Authors: 37%
Percentage by Male Authors: 53%
Percentage by both Female & Male Authors: 10%
Percentage by US Authors: 41%
Percentage by Non-US/Non-British Authors: 18%
Percentage Mystery: 71%
Percentage Fiction: 82%
Percentage Written 2000+: 33%
Percentage Rereads: 16%
Percentage Read for Challenges: 100% (it's easy when you do as many challenges as I do)
Number of Challenges Complete: 3 (9%)

Mysteries Read 

The Fear Sign by Margery Allingham (4 stars)
The Becket Factor by Michael David Anthony (3 stars)
The Woman in the Picture by John August (3 stars)
Dead, Mr. Mozart by Bernard Bastable (1 star)
Mysterious Invitation by Bernice Bloom (3 stars)
The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian (5 stars) February
Swing Low, Swing Death by R. T. Campbell (2.5 stars)
It Walks by Night by John Dickson Carr (3 stars)
Phi Beta Murder by C. S. Challinor (3 stars)
The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie (5 stars)
The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie (4 stars)
A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie (4 stars)
Towards Zero by Agatha Christie (4 stars)
Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (4 stars) [Fantasy/Mystery]
The Crimson Clue by George Harmon Coxe (3.25 stars)
The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson (4 stars)
The Angry Heart by Leslie Edgley (4 stars)
Blood on the Tracks by Martin Edwards, ed (3.5 stars)
Tintin in America by Herg√©  (3.5 stars)
A Gentleman's Murder by Christopher Huang (4 stars)
The Genesis Secret by Tom Knox (3.5 stars)
Here Come the Dead by Robert Portner Koehler (4 stars)
The Dante Game by Jane Langton (2.5 stars)
Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac (4 stas)
Garden of Deadly Delights by Cynthia Manson [ed] (4 stars)
The Black Cat Murders by Karen Baugh Menuhin (3 stars)
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Jan. 1996 [appears on Goodreads] (3 stars)
Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn (4 stars
Beauty Marks the Spot by Kelley Roos (4 stars)
Speakers of the Dead by J. Aaron Sanders (2.5 stars)
Murder R.F.D. by Leslie Stephan (3.5 stars)
Bony & the Kelly Gang by Arthur W. Upfield (3 stars)
Wings Above the Diamantina by Arthur W. Upfield (3 stars)
Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by various (3 stars)

This year I'm going to try very hard to stick to my no repeat/reread winners policy. It may be difficult--and if doing so means I'll be awarding a POM to book that earned three stars or less then I may have to break policy. Fortunately, the first three months pose no such difficulty. While there were plenty of books that earned three stars or less (and one real stinker...Bernard Bastable, I'm looking at you), there were also a lot of really strong contenders for the glittery POM prize. 

January saw four stars going out to Carter Dickson's The White Priory Murder (a reread); Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (a children's fantasy/mystery); The Angry Heart by Leslie Edgley, Christopher Huang's A Gentleman's Murder; and Beauty Marks the Spot by Kelley Roos (who has previously won the coveted prize. Edgley's book was a nicely plotted mystery with an interesting look at revenge and the fantasy/mystery by Cooper was highly enjoyable (and would have been more so if I had found it when I was young), but Huang's historical mystery just had that extra something that put him over the top in the first month of the year. It was a delightful homage to the Golden Age of mystery with just a touch of thriller--lots of nods to Christie, Earl Der Biggers, Sayers, and others. Makes a GAD fan's heart happy.

There was no doubt about February's winner. Chris Bahjalian takes home all the glory with the only five-star POM for the quarter. As I said in my review at the time, it was "An absolutely beautifully written bloodbath. So many unnecessary violent deaths--so many. Generally speaking this type of book is not my type of book. I'm a Golden Age, every murder is a puzzle and "there's a discernable meaning/motive for each death" kind of girl. Not much into Russian terrorists and killing just because someone asked one question too many (some of the time, just one question is too many). BUT Bohjalian can write. Man, can he write. I was sucked right in from the beginning and even the high body count couldn't keep me from turning the pages to find out what happened next." The runner up for February was no slouch--Robert Portner Koehler's Here Comes the Dead took a familiar Christie ploy and gave it a nice little twist. But it wasn't quite enough to win the honors.

In March, the only real competition for our winner was Dame Agatha Christie. The Christie mysteries were all rereads and, of course, Christie already has pretty little POM awards stashed on shelf so she was out of the running on two counts. That leaves us with the only new four-star winner, Deanna Raybourn and her Killers of a Certain Age. I thought this was just a fun book. It's a girl-power book. I'm not saying I'm in favor of killing people (whether they seem to need it or not), but in a world where this is a thing, then I'm all about don't mess with the girls. And don't think that age is going to make them an easy target. And don't think that just because you're a guy you can automatically outsmart, out-maneuver, and out-fight women who have been in the game for forty years. 

So, there you have it...let's have a round of applause for the Block's first three winners of 2023.

January: A Gentleman's Murder by Christopher Huang
February: The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
March: Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

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