Investigating Officer

My name is Patrick, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been a mystery fan. It started with a fascination with Sherlock Holmes as a child. Oh, sure, I read other stuff, like the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis or Alice in Wonderland (references to which I comment on in my reviews to this day), but it was Holmes with his uncanny detection who really caught my fancy. It was thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales that I discovered my love for mysteries, and believe me, it hasn’t dried up one iota.

This blog started after I read a horrendous book called The Affair at Royalties by George Baxt, which claimed it was a satire of Agatha Christie while not understanding her work at all. Having read all her stuff multiple times, I feel qualified to comment on this. (Incidentally, that is the reason I will rarely review an Agatha Christie on this blog— I’ve read her stuff too much and I want to discover new books and authors instead of covering the same old ground.) When I looked up the book online, I was shocked to find nothing on it except a half-buried comment that praised the book. I wrote a script for a video where I mocked the novel’s failings and “At the Scene of the Crime” was born.

Ah, those were humble beginnings. I consider that video review to be one of my worst efforts, as I really got carried away. The book infuriated me and I made no attempts to disguise it, and it comes across to me as a collection of shouts instead of an intelligent review. However, the video was relatively well-received, and I was encouraged to continue—and that is how I got started with this blog, which is dedicated to mysteries.

That’s the key word: mysteries. Not psychological thrillers or romantic suspense. Not “crime noir” or novels in which a crime happens to occur. I’m talking about mysteries, where a puzzle is given to the reader and all the clues are handed over, to give the aforementioned reader every opportunity to solve the case before the author does. Of course, I don’t limit myself to books only—be it a film, TV series, radio program, or book, if it’s a mystery it’s fair game for a review.

Occasionally I may dip into the non-mystery, but I will point out what it really is instead of masquerading it as something it is not. Thus, you will occasionally see some forays into thrillers, non-fiction, and the sort— though, usually, there is some criminal connection involved somewhere.

I’d like to thank everyone who regularly visits the scene of the crime—it is because of you that I do what I do! Below, I have answered some common questions I get, but if you have any others you’d like to see answered, don’t hesitate to ask!

Do you have any favourite authors or books?
Well, of course! My favourite author of all-time is John Dickson Carr, master of the locked room mystery. I admire his writing style—the way he could create tension or an aura of the supernatural, the complex plots that kept twisting and turning, the elaborate locked rooms and impossible scenarios he came up with, his ingenuity, and the fairness of his plots.

I have plenty of other favourite authors as well: Edmund Crispin, Christianna Brand, Rex Stout, William DeAndrea, Bill Pronzini, Craig Rice, R. Austin Freeman, Peter Lovesey, Henry Wade, Paul Doherty, Michael Innes, and Paul Halter come to mind.

Do you have some secret organization system for your books?
Oh, it’s no secret—it’s just ridiculously complex. One of my shelves is devoted solely to John Dickson Carr. It’s divided roughly in half, with one half being stacked with John Dickson Carr titles, and the other with Carter Dickson titles. They are also sorted chronologically in their respective halves.

The others have a more complex organization system. I'll tackle just one to give you an idea of what I mean. Hardbacks and large books are at the far right, irrespective of author, but the softcovers are grouped together by author. From left to right, they are: G. K. Chesterton, Paul Halter, Georges Simenon, Fred Vargas, Jean-Pierre Alaux, Laetitia Bourgeois, Seishi Yokomizo, Akimitsu Takagi, Peter Lovesey, A. E. W. Mason, Delano Ames, Margery Allingham, Detection Club round-robins, Shizuko Natsuki, Isaac Asimov, Nicholas Meyer, Sax Rohmer, Julian Symons, Stuart M. Kaminsky, Ellis Peters, Robert Barnard, Darwin Teilhet, Earl Derr Biggers, Edgar Wallace, Anthony Gilbert, Baynard Kendrick, A. B. Cunningham, Erle Stanley Gardner, Gladys Mitchell, William DeAndrea, Christianna Brand, Leo Bruce, Patrick Quentin, Helen McCloy, Jane Haddam, Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Ronald Knox, Nicholas Blake, Elizabeth Ferrars, Anthony Boucher, Henry Wade, Janwillem van de Wetering, Ngaio Marsh, Bill Pronzini, R. Austin Freeman, Anthony Berkeley, and Fredric Brown. They are grouped together either chronologically or in a visually pleasing fashion, but going into further details would be exhausting.

I will leave you to imagine the final shelves yourself. It’s not a huge or particularly impressive collection: I buy my books to read, not to collect. But it has grown considerably from the days when I had more fingers on my hands than books by John Dickson Carr…

When do you find the time to read?
Well, I’m a university student, and school is out for an entire term for me. I have done a lot of reading there to make up for the slower pace when I return to school. But since I don’t drive a car (and once I do get my licence, I won’t have much access to one anyhow), I take the bus, and I do quite a bit of reading on the trips there and back. Plus, it’s my number-one recreation after I’ve done whatever work that needs to be done. It’s a passion with me and time can be found.

My to-be-read pile will bury me one of these days...
What kind of mysteries are your favourites?
I’m actually a very easy reader to please. Odd as it might sound to those who have read my negative reviews, I don’t ask for too much from my mysteries. I look for a few key things: a good story, or at least an engagingly told one; fair clueing; and an actual plot instead of lingering on character angst— something, in short, that will entertain me. That’s the bare minimum, but including good characters, atmosphere, humour, and ingenuity (to name a few) only makes the book’s stock rise higher.  I have some authors I dislike (such as one Gilbert Adair), but overall, I love all sorts of mysteries and try to transfer my love of them to the page when I sit down to write a review.

15 comments:

  1. How do you choose the books that you review?

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  2. Rachel,

    I have no set scheme, algorithm, or plan for reviewing books. Sometimes the mood hits me for a locked-room mystery, or a mystery-comedy, or a hardboiled novel. Sometimes I decide to do a "theme" for a few weeks, where the novels I read are all in such-and-such a vein. But generally, it's how the mood strikes me. The only exceptions are Interlibrary Loans. When those arrive, the odds are that I won't get a shot at renewing them, so I try getting them read as quickly as possible.

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  3. A very impressive, informative and wonderfully designed blog, which I've been glad to add to my own blogroll.

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  4. Martin, I'm honoured to have made it on to your blog roll. Thanks!

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  5. Hello, Patrick

    I am a big GoldenAgeDetectiveFiction admirer and a huge fan of your blog, from Greece - I 'm really hooked; I find it extremely informative and entertaining at the same time. A job very well done! I am posting this to make a suggestion: Do you happen to know the "Patrick Quentin" books? (It 's a pseudonym used by plusieurs ecrivains) I think they are worth reviewing!

    Neoklis

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    1. @Neoklis
      Thank you very much for commenting. I'm glad you like the blog!

      If you click on my "Criminal Record" tab, you will find a list of the books I've reviewed, which I update every couple of weeks or so. I've reviewed two Patrick Quentins-- A PUZZLE FOR FOOLS and PUZZLE FOR PLAYERS. I agree that Quentin is very interesting and I will be returning to their work in good time.

      Best,
      Patrick

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    2. Thank you very much in return!

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  6. Patrick:

    I was wondering if you might be interested in reviewing my hardboiled novel PROHIBITION published by Airship 27. A link to the synopsis is listed below.

    http://www.amazon.com/Prohibition-Terrence-McCauley/dp/0615743889/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357151153&sr=8-1&keywords=terrence+mccauley

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    1. Terrence, thank you for getting in touch with me. I appreciate review requests, but for future reference I'd appreciate it more if it were sent via the contact form provided on this page.

      I've taken a look at the plot summary, but I'm afraid I'm just not awfully interested. It doesn't seem like my kind of story -- I'm just not particularly partial to gangster novels.

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  7. Hi Patrick. I only recently discovered John Dickson Carr (and your site). I have read Three Coffins and I'm currently reading The Crooked Hinge. Do you have a top 5 or top 10 of your favorite Carr novels? I'm trying to decide which ones to read next. Thanks!

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    1. I never made a top 10 list for Carr. In general, I dislike top 10s -- I have to think of how to rank things and I'm usually indecisive about that kind of stuff in close situations.

      But I do have plenty of favourites. One piece of advice I would give is to avoid the later Carrs until you've read plenty of his stuff, or they could be very off-putting. In particular avoid THE CAVALIER'S CUP, Carr's most mean-spirited book, leveled almost directly at the Labour Party.

      But in terms of the really good stuff, I particularly recommend:
      HE WOULDN'T KILL PATIENCE
      HE WHO WHISPERS
      TILL DEATH DO US PART
      THE RED WIDOW MURDERS
      THE PUNCH AND JUDY MURDERS (great mystery-comedy)
      THE UNICORN MURDERS (another high-spirited book, a bit of a sequel to PUNCH AND JUDY, but with a better mystery)
      THE LOST GALLOWS
      THE BLIND BARBER (great romp)
      THE NINE WRONG ANSWERS (terrific misdirection)
      THE CORPSE IN THE WAXWORKS
      THE PROBLEM OF THE GREEN CAPSULE
      THE CASE OF THE CONSTANT SUICIDES (one of Carr's funniest books and a classic locked room to boot)

      Hope that helps!

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    2. Oh, and I can't believe I forgot this one, but don't miss out on THE BURNING COURT. It's one of the best mysteries ever written. Don't look it up on Wikipedia, though -- it spoils the solution!

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