Erin Britton: Top five books of 2021

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There’s nothing better than a nice cosy murder at Christmastime – or any time in fact – and 2021 has been an excellent year for crime fiction of the decidedly non-gory variety. If you’re looking for an intriguing puzzle mystery with which to while away the hours over the holiday season, here are five of the best whodunnits that have been reviewed on Crime Fiction Lover this year.

5 – The Crystal Crypt by Fiona Veitch Smith

The Crystal Crypt by Fiona Veitch Smith front cover

When intrepid reporter Poppy Denby agrees to accompany best friend Delilah Marconi to a lecture at the Royal Institution, she expects a dull evening not one that will prompt her to embark on another murder investigation. However, that’s before the pair bump into old acquaintance Sophie Blackburn, who is working as an assistant at a top-secret Oxford laboratory known as the Crystal Crypt. She tells Poppy about the recent death of Dr June Leighton, the only woman scientist working on the project. While the police determined June’s death to be the result of an accidental electrocution, Sophie believes that her former colleague was murdered and, despite her initial misgiving, Poppy agrees to look into the case. The Crystal Crypt marks the sixth investigation for ground-breaking reporter and tenacious amateur sleuth Poppy Denby, and she’s once again forced to confront the fact that doing the right thing rarely entails doing the easy thing. Read my full review here.
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4 – The Corpse with the Granite Heart by Cathy Ace

The Corpse with the Granite Heart by Cathy Ace front cover

In the latest outing for globetrotting detectives Cait Morgan and Bud Anderson, the duo travel to London to visit long-time friend John Silver and meet his new fiancée, Bella Quiller. Unfortunately, what should be a relaxing pre-Christmas trip turns into a holiday from hell when Bella’s twin sister is murdered and Cait and Bud become embroiled in the police investigation. Aside from Cait’s own fractious history with the victim, it seems shadowy forces with links to the highest echelons of the British establishment want her dead and aim to stymie the investigation by any means necessary. Both family and business concerns are at the heart of matters in The Corpse with the Granite Heart, which makes it no surprise that the threads of the mystery and the relationships they concern are tangled and disturbing. Read my full review here.
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3 – These Names Make Clues by ECR Lorac

These Names Make Clues by ECR Lorac front cover

After he reluctantly agrees to attend a dinner party and treasure hunt hosted by publisher Graham Coombe, Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald discovers that he and the other guests have been assigned literary pseudonyms, with one of the aims of the treasure hunt being to unmask the other competitors. While everyone seems keen to discover who the real detective among them is, Macdonald appears to take an early lead in the treasure hunt, moving from room to room as he solves clue after clue. Yet, just as Macdonald is swapping clues with a fellow treasure seeker, the lights go out and chaos temporarily reigns. When the power is restored, Macdonald and Coombe find one of the guests dead in a small room on the ground floor. Although the cause of death is initially assumed to be heart failure, Macdonald quickly becomes suspicious and launches a full investigation.

First published in 1937 and reprinted in 2021, These Names Make Clues is a cerebral detective story that is perhaps the most in keeping of all Lorac’s books with the conventions of the Golden Age of Murder. Principally a ‘closed circle’ mystery that relies heavily on cryptic clues, pseudonyms and literary influences, it provides insights into life during the interwar period and pokes fun at the publishing world while also portraying a convoluted crime that taxes even the best Scotland Yard has to offer. Read my full review here.
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2 – A Three Dog Problem by SJ Bennett

A Three Dog Problem by SJ Bennett front cover

As if the Brexit referendum and the forthcoming Trump versus Clinton election weren’t bad enough, the discovery of an employee’s dead body beside the Buckingham Palace swimming pool threatens to render 2016 yet another annus horribilis for Queen Elizabeth II. The police think that the death is the result of a tragic accident, but Her Majesty isn’t quite convinced. She’s had the feeling that something isn’t quite right in the palace for a while now, and that’s before anyone dares to tell her about the poison pen letters that have been circulating among palace staff. As Elizabeth subtly searches for the truth behind these incidents, her trusted personal secretary Rozie Oshodi is hot on the trail of a missing painting that, while she won’t admit it, has deep personal significance for the Queen. As their two investigations converge, it becomes clear that deadly danger is stalking the regal hallways of Buckingham Palace. A Three Dog Problem concerns the second murder that Her Majesty the Queen decides to solve by secretly employing her little grey cells and then deftly manoeuvring the police, MI5/MI6 and members of the royal household to look in the right directions and question the right people. Read our full review here.
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1 – The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman front cover

It’s the following Thursday and, just when it seems that things can’t possibly get any more exciting for the stalwarts of the Thursday Murder Club, Elizabeth receives a letter from a former colleague who is planning to move into a flat within the Coopers Chase retirement community. Never one to divulge more than is strictly necessary about her past, Elizabeth eventually reveals to Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim that she last saw fellow ex spy Marcus Carmichael back in 198… when she was tasked with identifying his body. Marcus’s sudden resurrection is only one aspect of the latest puzzle facing the four octogenarian investigators, as they soon discover that there are also missing diamonds, gangland grudges and would-be assassins to deal with, and that’s before the first real murder occurs.

The Man Who Died Twice is the second case to be tackled by Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim, crime fiction’s favourite band of sleuthing seniors, who have yet to encounter a puzzle they can’t solve. The central mystery is every bit as fun and compelling as the friendship and banter among the main characters. Read our review here.
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See what my colleagues on the site have selected for their top fives by clicking here.

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