FictionFan Awards 2017 – Vintage Crime Fiction/Thriller

Drum roll please…

…for this year’s nominees and winners of the annual FictionFan Awards of 2017.

For the benefit of new readers, and as a reminder for anyone who was around last year, here’s a quick résumé of the rules…

THE CRITERIA

All nominees must be books I’ve read and reviewed between November 2016 and October 2017 regardless of publication date, but excluding re-reads. The books must have received a 5-star rating.

THE CATEGORIES

The categories tend to change slightly each year to better reflect what I’ve been reading during the year.

This year, there will be Honourable Mentions and a Winner in each of the following categories:

Vintage Crime Fiction/Thriller

Factual

Modern Crime Fiction/Thriller

Literary Fiction

…and…

Book of the Year 2017

THE PRIZES

For the winners!

I guarantee to read the author’s next book even if I have to buy it myself!

(NB If an author is unlikely to publish another book due to being dead, I will read a book from his/her back catalogue…)

For the runners-up!

Nothing!

THE JUDGES

Me!

* * * * * * * * *

So, without further ado, here are this year’s runners-up and winner in

VINTAGE
CRIME FICTION/THRILLER

This category is taking the place of genre fiction this year. My growing obsession with vintage crime fiction has left me with little time to read either sci-fi or horror, and these older books have been some of the most enjoyable reads of the year for me.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina White

A young Englishwoman, Iris Carr, is travelling home alone from an unspecified European country. Suffering from sunstroke, she nearly misses her train but a helpful porter shoves her into a carriage at the last moment. The people in the carriage clearly resent her presence – all except one, that is. Miss Froy, another Englishwoman, takes Iris under her wing and carries her off to have tea in the dining carriage. When they return, Iris sleeps for a while. When she awakes, Miss Froy has gone, and the other passengers deny all knowledge of there having ever been another Englishwoman in the carriage…

White’s writing is excellent and, although the motive for the plot is a bit weak, the way she handles the story builds up some great tension. She’s insightful and slightly wicked about the English abroad and about attitudes to women, both of which add touches of humour to lift the tone. And she rather unusually includes sections about Miss Froy’s elderly parents happily anticipating the return of their beloved only child, which gives the thing more emotional depth than I’d have expected in a thriller of this era. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate

A trial is about to commence and the jury is being sworn in. A death has occurred in unusual circumstances and a woman has been charged with murder. But the evidence is largely circumstantial so it will be up to the jury (and the reader) to decide whether the prosecution has proved its case. The book has an unusual format, almost like three separate acts. As each jury member is called to take the oath, we are given background information on them; sometimes a simple character sketch, at others what amounts to a short story telling of events in their lives that have made them what they are. These introductions take up more than a third of the book before we even find out who has been murdered and who is on trial. When the trial begins, the reader is whisked out of the courtroom to see the crime unfold. Finally we see the evidence as it is presented at the trial and then follow the jury members as they deliberate.

Excellent writing, great characterisation, insightful about society, lots of interesting stories within the main story, and a realistic if somewhat cynical look at the strengths and shortcomings of the process of trial by jury. It’s easy to see why this one is considered a classic.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

The Golden Sabre by Jon Cleary

Matthew Martin Cabell has been in the Eastern Urals carrying out a survey for the oil company he works for, and now wants to go home to America. But Russia is in the midst of the Civil War that followed the Revolution, and the local leader of the Whites, General Bronevich, sees an American citizen as a good opportunity to make some easy money. Eden Penfold is an English governess looking after the children of a local Prince who has gone to fight in the war. Eden has received a message from the children’s mother that she should bring the young Prince and Princess to her in Tiflis (now Tbilisi), but Eden is worried how she will make the journey safely in these dangerous times. When Bronevich attempts to rape Eden, Cabell kills him – and suddenly Matthew, Eden and the children are on the run through Russia in the Prince’s Rolls Royce… pursued by a dwarf!

Despite some cringe-makingly out-dated language and non-politically correct attitudes towards women and gay men, this is a hugely enjoyable rip-roaring adventure yarn, full of excitement and danger, and with a nice light romance thrown in for good measure. Well written and with likeable lead characters, the pace never lets up – a truly wild ride!

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

Cop Hater by Ed McBain

When a cop is shot down in the street one night, the squad from the 87th Precinct in Isola swing into action. At first the reason for the shooting isn’t known. Was it random? Was it personal? But when another cop from the precinct is killed in the same way it begins to look like there’s a cop hater on the loose. Now Detective Steve Carella and his colleagues have two reasons to find the killer quickly – to get justice for their fellow officers and to stop the perpetrator before he kills again…

First published in 1956, this is the first in the long-running, successful and influential 87th Precinct series. Writing, setting, atmosphere, characterisation – all superb. While some of the attitudes are obviously a bit dated, the storytelling isn’t at all, and the vices and weaknesses of the human animal haven’t changed much over the years. Excellent stuff – definitely a classic of the genre – a realistic police procedural with an edge of noir.

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

FICTIONFAN AWARD WINNER 2017

for

BEST VINTAGE CRIME FICTION/THRILLER

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes

Good though the shorlisted books are, in the end this was an easy decision. The Lodger stands out as one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read – what today we would call a psychological thriller.

Mr and Mrs Bunting are becoming desperate. Having left domestic service to run their own lodging house, they’ve had a run of bad luck and are now down to their last few shillings with no way to earn more unless they can find a lodger for their empty rooms. So when a gentleman turns up at their door offering to pay a month’s rent in advance, they are so relieved they overlook the odd facts that Mr Sleuth has no luggage and asks them not to take up references. Meantime, London is agog over a series of horrific murders, all of drunken women. The murderer leaves his calling card on the bodies – a triangular slip of paper pinned to their clothes with the words “The Avenger” written on it…

What Lowndes does so well is show the dilemma in which Mrs Bunting in particular finds herself. It’s not long before she begins to suspect her lodger of being The Avenger. But, on the other hand, there’s nothing definite to say he’s the killer, and Mrs Bunting rather likes him. And, just as importantly, the Buntings rely totally on the rent he pays. It really is brilliantly done – great characterisation and totally credible psychologically. No wonder Hitchcock used this as the basis for his first big success back in the silent movie era. A great classic and a worthy winner indeed!

Click to see the full review

* * * * * * * * *

Next week: Best Factual

38 thoughts on “FictionFan Awards 2017 – Vintage Crime Fiction/Thriller

  1. Oooh, that is a good choice, FictionFan! Such a great eerie atmosphere and a solid look at the London of the times. I really like that lodging-house setting too. And for a relatively short novel, I think Lowndes did a fine job with character development, too.

    • Yes, I think it’s an excellent book – as good as any of the psychological thriller of today and better than most of them. Poor Mrs Bunting – I still feel sorry for her dilemma and wonder what I would have done…

  2. Great choice, FF! I knew you enjoyed this one from your earlier review, so I’m not surprised to find it in the winner’s circle now. Still, you had a LOT of good ones to pick from, and I admire you for narrowing down the options!!

    • In the end, this one was an easy choice because this book is so good, but I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a lot of these vintage crime books recently, as you know. The question is – how will it do in the contest for overall Book of the Year? I wish I knew… 😉

  3. I’m not a big crime reader, but I can’t resist adding The Lodger to my list (one of the best crime novels you’ve ever read!). Just thinking about being in that situation gives me the goosebumps!

    • Ooh, do! I think you might enjoy it. Although it is a crime novel, it’s really much more about poor Mrs Bunting’s dilemma – a real “what would you do” novel. And it gives a great picture of all sorts of aspects of life at the time. If you do read it sometime, I hope you enjoy it! 😀

    • I like both, but I think I marginally prefer one-offs. There are very few series that I haven’t tired of after a few books. I loved Cop Hater though, and will definitely read more of that series. I read many of them in my youth but have only the vaguest memories of them now.

    • I honestly think you’ll love The Lodger, Cleo! It’s a very ‘you’ book – a real psychological crime. One of the first “what would you do?” novels. I still feel for poor Mrs Bunting and wonder what I’d have done… 😀

      • It does sound a ‘me’ kind of book although I’m a little wary because the author was the sister of Hilaire who wrote those Cautionary Tales for Children that my mother used to quote at me for any type of badness! 🙂

        • Hahaha – luckily for me I don’t think my mother came across them! Not that it held her back – she had plenty of guid Scots expressions to throw at me, when required… 😉

  4. Oh I’m glad The Lodger won, your review of it was so convincing and I’ve heard so much about it since I saw it on your blog a few months ago. Once again you were leading the crowd!

    • Haha – chief lemming, that’s me! 😉 Seriously though, it’s such a good book it was an easy choice, even though all the shortlisted books are good too. Hurrah for vintage crime!!

    • Yay for The Lodger!! The Wheel Spins has a lot of differences to the film of The Lady Vanishes, even though the basics are the same. Although I loved the book, it’s one of the very rare occasions when I actually preferred the film. But both are worthy of reading/watching… 😀

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