As the sun slowly sets on another stressful year, it’s the perfect opportunity to look back on 2022 with all of its stresses and dangers as, fortunately, yet another year we’re all together united by the common thread of puzzling detection. Murders in English manors, thefts committed from within locked vaults, and disappearances of people within sight ironically provide a comforting escape for many of us, and in this holiday-and-New-Years seasons I can only be grateful to have not only discovered Golden Age detection on that fatal day in my high school library, but to have discovered a lovely community of people from whom I’ve learned so, so, so much more than I could ever have imagined. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to write this blog between my difficult university classes. Having my passion for this form stoked by so many brilliant, insightful, and educated people in this community has helped guide my career path — the study of the Japanese language to become a translator of detection fiction — so for being such a formative part of my life, to all the practitioners, scholars, and lovers of the devious deed, today and yesterday, alive and dead, I say: Thank you!
To cap off this year, and to lead us into 2023, I wanted to not only take a look back at this year in mysteries and my blog, but to also look forward at what’s to come! I hope together we can make 2023 another murderous year!
The Best Mystery Novels of 2022
Mr. J (x 2) himself, of The Invisible Event blogging fame, came out swords-a-swinging in this fantastically written and freakishly dense medieval impossible crime (and then three more) set amidst a plague apocalypse in the world of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Red Death”. While I admit that the impossible crimes are of a somewhat overly technical/physical nature for my tastes, they’re also too novel to not be impressed with. The impossible poisoning has one of the most audacious solutions of all time, something on which I think we can all agree whether we love it or hate it (I have a little of both). I look forward to seeing what, if anything, Jim Noy puts out in the future.
Somewhat awkward treatment of bisexual people aside, Ripples by Robert Innes is my introduction to this modern plotter of self-published impossible crimes and, wow! The central impossibility of a man walking across a lake as if the surface of the water were a totally physical surface offers up a brilliant explanation accompanied by some cluing with irreverent brashness only befitting Christianna Brand. It has to share space with a romance plot, and the cluing is a little awkward, but don’t let that turn you away, because for fans of impossible crimes this really is the goods.
This, Japan’s most important detective novel ever written, is more than deserving of its esteem. Not, perhaps, the world’s best-written novel nor the most compelling impossible crime, but absolutely the genre’s most stunning serial killing trick of all time. The brilliant solution is not only an absolute shocker, but it’s so ingenious and inventive that attempting to imitate it would be folly: it is, simply, a trademark of this book, and any inspiration or copy-catting will be immediately noticed. There’s little surprise this stands among the very top of my list of the 30 best mystery stories I’ve ever read.
I was not impressed with the locked-room mysteries in this over-zealous locked-room mystery novel from a new-time, self-published author, but the meta-twist involving the motive for the author’s own murder shows a cleverness and deftness to his plotting that not only left me impressed, but made me more than excited to see how his writing grows. A shockingly sharp meta-misdirection extends beyond the confines of the book in a way only a self-published author nobody’s heard of could manage…
The Best Short Stories of 2022
Ellery Queen meets Miss Marple in this delightful little post-GAD mystery series featuring the nameless “Mom”, a little old Jewish mother in the Bronx who, over Friday dinner, can listen to stories of her policeman son’s most recent arrest and tell him, always without fail, why he’s got the wrong person! For an author-centric short story collection, the average quality of My Mother, The Detective is insanely high, but special notes to “Mom Makes a Bet”, a smashingly clever short story bolstered by one of my favorite clues of all time, and “Mom Makes a Wish”, the series’ best reconciliation of deduction chains and psychological clues. The puzzler was in good hands after the Golden Age ended with James Yaffe on the case!
Tetsuya Ayukawa is more than just “Japan’s Freeman Wills Crofts” — he is a uniquely clever detective fiction author who specializes in cross-wiring of the impossible crime and the alibi problem. In such stories as “Death in Early Spring”, Ayukawa uses gimmickry associated with locked-room mystery to provide brilliant solutions to alibi plots, and in such stories as “The Clown in the Tunnel” he uses time tables and alibi tricks to inform clever answers to impossible crimes. Add to the mix the fantastically devious procedural “Whose Body?”, and you have a smart and eclectic selection of short detective tales from Japan’s own Golden Age.
The Worst Mystery Novel of 2022
This pretentious detective novel debut from a poet laureate fails as both an example of the character-driven detective story and the plot-driven detective story. The principle cast is characterized purely through arbitrary pseudo-psychological mumblings from the detective instead of by the merits of their own behavior within the narrative, and the central murder of a preparatory school headmaster’s nephew is unremarkable and thinly plotted. The second murder is a surprisingly decent Chestertonian impossible crime buried within this otherwise dull detective story, but A Question of Proof itself has its characters hypocritically criticizing detective novels for arbitrary second murders, so I imagine I’m supposed to do the same for this novel in turn. Dull, empty, and pseudo-literary with neither high-brow nor low-brow interest, A Question of Proof‘s sole silver lining is that it’s the worst but also the first review of 2022, meaning it is only up-hill from there…
The Worst Mystery Short Story of 2022
This unremarkable inverted mystery has neither detective nor psychological interests, featuring a killer with all the psychological depth of a spare tire committing a murder as artistically inspired as the process of replacing a spare tire, with a solution as interesting as reading instructions on the process of replacing a spare tire. Add to that a very amateurish translation, and you have yourself with a story with not much in it besides genre-historical interest…
The Best Non-Literature Mysteries of 2022
I’ve reviewed part 1 and part 2 of Furuhata Ninzaburō season 1 already, so please check out those reviews for more information on this excellent inverted mystery drama! Inspired by Columbo, Furuhata Ninzaburō is a 90s detective drama starring a titular police lieutenant who solves murders all over Japan! Just as in Columbo, at the beginning of every episode we see the culprit commit the crime, and the mystery is in figuring out how Furuhata solves the mystery… The best episode of season 1 of the show is “The Rehearsal Murder”.
In this episode, samurai actor Jushiro, desperate to save his movie studio from being sold and transformed into a mall, concocts a devious plot to tamper with the choreography of a swordfight scene in which his boss guest stars as the villain! Doing this, he’s able to use a real sword to cut his boss’s throat open so that it looks like nothing more than a prop-and-choreography accident during the rehearsal, with dozens of witnesses swearing up and down that the crime was an accident. Now, Furuhata is posed with a new problem: not with proving who committed the murder, but instead with proving that the murder was deliberate and premeditated!
The episode teases you with the clue of a moving moon prop during its entire runtime, and when the explanation for how that nails the killer’s guilt is revealed it is a gob-stopper! This is the show that turned me onto inverted mysteries, and this is the episode that solidified the series’s place in my heart! Absolutely fantastic, but it is by no means the only fantastic episode in the show, so please do consider checking it out at some point!
This semi-inverted mystery involving an impossible case of cheating (by leaving writing inside of a sealed envelope) and the psychological impossibility of a person cheating to win a game of shogi somehow still making a move so colossally bad that even laypeople realize it cost him the game, is another brilliantly-clued episode from Japan’s signature inverted mystery drama. I could pick three or four more episodes from this show to represent, so let the fact I narrowed it down to these two be testament to the raw quality of these two episodes from this excellent mystery series.
This impossible crime mystery manga’s fan favorite case is “The Kamikakushi Murder Case”, which features the impossibility of a person who can commit a murder on one side of a mountain while standing on the other. While it’s flawed in construction, the story’s ingenious central trick is so damnably audacious and ambitious that it ranks among the best alibi tricks of all time. Utterly brilliant and well-worth the medium-crossing for anyone interested.
Since posting On Some of the Best Mysteries Ever Written and the Puzzle of Why You’ve Never Read Them, I’ve been dedicated large periods of time to reviewing cases from the eclectic, varied, and massive Japanese mystery franchise Detective Conan. To single out every great case in the series that I’ve reviewed would take ages, but it let be said that Detective Conan contains some of the best mysteries of all time among its 700 individual stories, and I look forward to continuing to read and review this behemoth of Japanese detection in the coming years.
My Favorite Review of 2022
I’m very proud of my review of My Mother, the Detective, in which I believe I’ve done a good job of looking at the collection holistically and dissecting trends in the stories while still managing to convey clearly my thoughts on the individual entries. In my opinion it is the best short story collection review I’ve ever written, and a post I’ve failed to live up to in my following anthology reviews. But if you want to see what I consider the best of my blog, I will always point you in the direction of this post.
My Least Favorite Review of 2022
My woefully inadequate review of this promising authorial debut comes off as scathing and dismissive, as well as thoughtlessly short and superficial. This author reached out to me months before the review was written, waited patiently for a response, and then was punished for his good nature with a poor review written during my burn-out, only to respond with the maximum of human graciousness which I simply didn’t deserve. I am embarrassed of having written so poor a review for Mr. Carver, and am tempted to return to and re-review the book in time.
My Favorite Discussion Post of 2022
The writing is inconsistent as get-out and it’s a somewhat messily-organized post, but this is a 15,000 word, 50 page guide on Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, my favorite mystery series of all time, that I put together in a little under a week. In this guide, I break-down every nook and cranny of the Ace Attorney series, review every case of every game, offer a how-to guide on getting started with the series, offered justification on why you should play the games, and basically did half the work getting you all started on your Ace Attorney journey. Frankly, for such a massive project that I stitched together so quickly, I think it still came out my best discussion post of the year.
Nick Fuller over at The Grandest Game of the World was gracious enough to name my post in his description of the first game’s final case as “the best detective fiction” he’s experienced since January! High praise, indeed!
My Least Favorite Discussion Post of 2022
This post was a fun idea, but I realized that I only really had ideas for 14 (and a half) categories. Forced to reverse-engineer a 15th, it wasn’t a very good idea, and most people had a-many issues to bring up regarding a few of my categories. I stand by all of them except the last one, but it’s still, all told, a pretty lazy and not at all well-done list. I also shamelessly copy-pasted the introduction from another post on my blog (which I’ve done a few times, but it’s especially bad here). Easily my worst discussion post of the three years I’ve been blogging.
What’s to come for Solving the Mystery of Murder in 2023?
2023 is an exciting year for me! For starters, I plan to progress greatly in my Japanese studies, and I intend to be fluent enough to read novels and short stories by the end of 2023! That means I’ll start being able to regularly review Japanese-language detective fiction and, eventually, be able to join the small team of people translating honkaku mysteries for all you lovely people across the world!
I also plan to work more fervently on writing my own detective stories and I look forward to sharing them all with you! I’m unbelievably lazy when it comes to writing prose, as it’s easy for me to get discouraged and hate everything I make, so I always just sit around with an excess of ideas and no writing to go with them! It might be a little self-indulgent to talk about ideas I might not even write, but I love sharing and am excited about themm!
Some of the ideas I’m most excited for are “The Regret of Nishitouin” and “The Ghost of Duelist’s Perch”. “The Regret of Nishitouin” takes place in a fictionalized version of Feudal Japan, following the ritualistic suicide of samurai Nishitouin Mogami in his locked and sealed bed chamber. The problem, however, is that hara-kiri, ritualistic suicide in which a samurai disembowels himself, also requires the samurai be decapitated, and decapitated Nishitouin surely was… So, how did the executioner escape the sealed room? “The Ghost of Duelist’s Perch” involves the ghost of a gun-duelist who seems to manifest in the middle of a snowy-night at a pair of twin cliffs to commit a murder, and with no footprints to show how a human could’ve escaped it’s clear to everyone that a ghost must’ve done it, but Maria Sharp has different ideas about how a killer could commit the crime and escape without leaving footprints! Both stories have solutions known to close friends, such as TomCat of Beneath the Stains of Time, who praised them unambiguously, which has given me serious motivation to write them out!
Some other ideas I’m excited about that friends liked include “A Spoonful of Cyanide”, the only poisoning story I’ll ever write involving a Toxicology professor whose first-day prank of drinking a harmless liquid from a harmless container from her poison cabinet to scare her class is co-opted by a would-be murderer who swapped her harmless liquid for potassium cyanide. When the poison is stolen off of her unconscious body and more murders follow, the police suspect our narrator, student and wannabe werewolf fantasy author Eden Bitter, of committing the murders! Also, “The Alibi of the Stolen Swords”, an alibi plot in which the police know who must have committed the two murders, but there’s one problem: while the killer has no alibi for the murder, he has a perfect alibi for stealing the weapons that killed the victims, which are two identical swords. With no accomplices to help him acquire the weapons, how could someone commit the murder when it’s impossible for him to get his hands on the murder weapons!?
As for novels, the only novel I currently plan to work on is a project called The Suicide Game, a novel as well as a collection of short stories with an overarching narratively involving the titular death game in which every contestant was on the cusp of ending their life. Now together in a gorgeous mansion inside of which they’re stuck, the contestants are encouraged to murder a competitor and avoid subsequent detection in order to “earn the right to want to live”, whereas all losers are punished severely… The topic of suicide is a very personal one for me and I wanted to work on a life affirming story that called attention to the central paradox of “even people who want to die… want to want to live”, using mystery stories to explore what value life has to a group of people who all possess incredibly different and personal reasons for wanting to kill themselves, and why they either are or aren’t willing to kill another person to escape from the assumed necessity of their own suicides. What does it even mean to them to have “the right to want to live”? It’s a difficult project to work on because I want to find a delicate balance between well-plotted, problem-oriented detective stories and a series of stories with a focus on motive that explore the central theme of the heavily personal nature of the value of life, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. As a short story collection, every story focuses on one “Round” of The Suicide Game, with one central mystery and one murderer, but none of the stories are totally-contained, with cluing and misdirection being able to stem from four stories earlier. The idea of a narratively inter-connected short story collection is a format I’ve always been interested in. I hope whatever I come up with does me credit.
Besides my writing, though, what about my blog?
I’ll be trying to be more organized with my reviews in the future. Starting around February, after I take some time to create a stockpile of posts, I’ll be uploaded semi-weekly. Saturdays will be dedicated to novel reviews, short story collection reviews, or discussion posts, while Wednesdays will be dedicated to non-literature mysteries such as manga, video games, television shows, or what have you.
As for what specific posts I have planned, I’m already working on a lot, including:
On the [n] Ways to Create Alibis and the [n] Ways to Destroy Them is something of a spiritual successor to one of my personal favorite posts, On 50 Locked-Room Solutions of Our Own, in which I offered a taxonomy of 50 potential types of impossible crimes solutions. This post is a similar taxonomy, addressing the many different tricks that can be employed in alibi-centric mystery stories.
On a Defense of Pastiche, Caricature, and Adaptation in Detective Fiction is the most difficult of all of these posts. In it, I am attempting to offer a defense of pastiche in literature, offering many examples of good pastiches, as well as reasons why pastiche and homage are written outside of the cynical answer of “money”. This was conceived as a response to the overwhelmingly negative reception to the recent Marple anthology before the book was even available to purchase.
Father Brown reviews! I will be reviewing every Father Brown story by collection! Huzzah!
Alibi Cracking, At Your Service review! I will be reviewing the show Alibi Cracking, At Your Service, a Japanese drama with a focus on alibi problems!
Part 2 to my Hybrid Mysteries post, which focuses on how to write hybrid mysteries.
Continuing my Detective Conan reviews!
Continuing my Kindaichi Case Files reviews!
Continuing my Furuhata Ninzaburou reviews!
Continuing my Detective School Q reviews!
On the Puzzle Boxes of Christopher Nolan – Thrillers for Mystery Lovers, a post in which I discuss how Christopher Novel creates thriller films for mystery novels with his high-concept science-fiction and complex plot-oriented movies.
It’s an exciting year for me, so I hope I can continue to offer you all more reading material! Let it never be said I didn’t have ambition, and I can only hope that ambition pays off meaningfully in readable content.
What’s New For Detective Fiction in 2023?
I don’t know! All I know is that in December (groan), a short story collection of beloved historical mysteries, The Meiji Guillotine Murders by Futaro Yamada, will be released, as well a couple new Yokomizo and Ayatsuji reprints. Seishi Yokomizo’s The Devil’s Flute Murders and Yukito Ayatsuji’s The Water Mill House Murders, to be precise. Sadly, outside of that, I don’t have much of a pulse on promising upcoming reprints, releases, or translations! It’s a mystery, alright! It’s already a promising year, and I can’t wait to see what else comes from the brilliant minds of publishers and writers.
That all being said, I just want to say one more thing: thank you to my friends and readers in the detective fiction circle who have been behind me these last three years as I slowly grow more and more as a blogger. I wouldn’t have come as far this year as I had if not for the endless support from the lovely people in our little community. I had 11,000 reads this year alone! I never thought I’d have a number that large ascribed to me in my entire life! It’s so surreal! I love and value each and every one of you, and I hope we can continue to grow as a community. Here’s to a beautiful 2023, more devious deeds and mysterious murders, and happy reading!