#515: A Little Help for My Friends – Finding a Modern Locked Room Mystery for TomCat Attempt #10: Angel Killer (2014) by Andrew Mayne

Angel Killer

The appeal of detective fiction and impossible crime novels for me is their potential for elegance, for taking something that seems utterly baffling and rendering it clear through intelligent deployment of a few key ideas.  This achieved peak density during the Golden Age, which is why that era earned that sobriquet, and it feels like it’s been downhill ever since.

Sure, there have been more than a handful of excellent puzzle plot and/or impossible crime novels in more modern times — most, it feels, written on foreign shores and brought to us by Locked Room International — but the general trend of modern authors is to confuse complexity with intelligence.  And, because complexity only gets you so far, and because it takes intelligence to wrap things up with the tidiness of, say, The Madman’s Room (1990, tr. 2017), the plots of your modern swipes at this sort of endeavour typically end up sprawling and then boringly fixating on tiny details like a drunk who has dropped a box of screws.  Which brings us to Angel Killer (2014), the originally self-published debut of illusionist Andrew Mayne.

Professional magicians and impossible crimes have a somewhat notable history when it comes to writing fiction.  Henning Nelms, as Hake Talbot, gave us the by-no-means-bad The Hangman’s Handyman (1942) and then followed it with one of the genre’s best efforts in Rim of the Pit (1944) before vanishing in a puff of potential; Clayton Rawson’s Great Merlini stories are full of invention (along with their often-thwarted ambition as the word count increases) and contain a handful of solid gold classics, not least of which is ‘Off the Face of the Earth’ (1949); and Bruce Elliot wrote an underappreciated gem in the form of You’ll Die Laughing (1945) — a book to which I could add maybe three paragraphs and make a legitimate classic.  The dark arts of written misdirection — of planning what to show while preparing something else — go hand-in-hand with stage magic, and it’s no surprise that these two careers should mesh so beautifully.  So there’s a definite precedent here for Mayne to be set up well for an entertaining stab at the Grandest Game in the World.

But you have to counter that with the fact that he’s writing in a time where elegance counts for very little, and spectacle is more important than the delicate weave of a legitimately intelligent plot.  And thus it’s no surprise that what emerges is a red hot mess.


“Oh, dear…”

For clarity’s sake, let’s establish the text under discussion: Angel Killer was self-published in 2012, but the copyright page of my 2015 Faber & Faber paperback calls that a “slightly different form” and so I have read the 2014 edit of that book.  Just, as I say, so we’re clear what I’m critiquing here.  Also, in order to appreciate why this falls so flat with me, I’m deciding right now that there will be spoilers in the following — I’ll warn you so that you can avoid them if you wish, but, honestly, I can’t recommend that you spend any time and/or money on this book.  Read this review instead and be done with it.

It frustrates me to say that because the first haf is, on balance, pretty good.  Sure, there are problems — we’ll get to those — but it’s not without potential, and displays some very smart thinking in how it fills in its canvas.  The essential setup sees FBI agent Jessica Blackwood called in to help interpret a crime scene where a body has appeared in what must at first glance be impossible circumstances: a woman, dead for some two years from multiple stab wounds and an autopsy, having clawed her way out of her coffin and climbed through two meters of solid earth, suffocating just as she reaches the surface.  The reason for Blackwood’s involvement?  She’s the third generation of a family of highly-regarded stage magicians, and was herself a magician of no small repute before turning her back on the profession to join law enforcement.  If this situation isn’t genuine, and it’s to be hoped it isn’t, then Blackwood herself may well be uniquely placed to help see through the smoke and mirrors.

As conceits go, it’s a good one, and Mayne writes rather well:

“Can you pull a card from behind my ear, or make all the aces come to the top of a deck of cards?”

It’s an odd question.  “Yes.  Of course.”

“If I sent that deck of cards to the forensic lab, what would they tell me?”

I understand what he’s saying.  Maybe they’d find a few fingerprints and creases, but that’s not enough.  The real answers are in the mind of the magician.  In other hands, those cards are just thick pieces of paper.

So our body presents “a complete illusion”: the earth is tightly packed and has not been recently disturbed by anything so crude as a spade, the coffin proves to be empty, and several levels of forensic analysis match the DNA of the body with that of the older, expected body.

Just as everyone is adapting to this conundrum, a second, more baffling event occurs: the appearance on an isolated beach of what is to all appearances a plane that went missing over the Bermuda Triangle in 1945, complete with a pilot whose fingerprints match those of the man who was flying the plane when it vanished.  Honestly, at this point I was very excited — Mayne has a good handle on allowing characters to speculate reasonably intelligently about what they see and how certain illusions could be created, and there are no immediate answers for either of these quasi-impossibilities (are they fully impossible?  For some reason my mind doesn’t want to say they are…).  But, well, this is where the problems that have been gently roweling in the background begin to emerge, and this point, where the plane is discovered, represents the apotheosis of the novel as a whole.  And from here, the drop is a steep one.


“Oh, dear…”

Where to start?  Firstly, I suppose, there’s the issue that every other character except Blackwood is simply a man in a suit who either doesn’t believe in her and then does or who she thinks doesn’t believe in her and then does.  Yeah, they have names, and now I think of it there’s a redheaded woman in there, too, but don’t worry about distinguishing between them.  Early promise, like her new boss being likened wonderfully to “a medieval bishop [who] points out the person guilty of evil deeds against the church and sends them out to the courtyard to be stood atop a pile of logs and set on fire”, fade almost immediately and everyone else becomes a vague blur against which Blackwood thinks and realises and — ye gods, we’ll get to this — tells a lot of stories about her past in the middle of dramatic scenes.  Now, I’m not the most ardent student of character in thrillers, but when you don’t know who anyone is and it makes no difference, well, what you have there is a problem.

Also, the magic.  Inevitably, there’s a lot of discussion about magic, and we see (Great Merlini-esque) certain smaller tricks being utilised and sometimes explained — Blackwood making a card bearing the results of a baseball game that’s just finished appear in a box that’s been locked in a safe overnight, for one — and at every single explanation Maybe manages to make things so confusing that you wish he hadn’t bothered.  That card appearance is agonising, and I need to go into a moderate amount of detail here to illustrate why; my apologies, but it’s important in understanding how such a promising book falls so hard.  So, new paragraph…

The box has been locked away all the previous night and someone else has been in possession of an envelope containing the key the whole time.  Blackwood asks for the result of the game that’s finished, and the key and the box are given to her and she unlocks the box and hands it to a guy to open.  Inside is an envelope.  He opens the envelope, and inside is the card bearing the score.  It’s a great trick.  The explanation?  The card is curled, and Blackwood had rolled it up and put it in the end of the key before putting the key in the lock…except, when did she write on it, how did she get it sealed in an envelope, and how did no-one notice a rolled up envelope sticking out of the key?  Mayne tries to lampshade this by having someone query it, and they’re brushed off and we move on, for it never to be explained.  Equally, the writing is so poor that we’re only told the card is curled, not the envelope the card was in — leading to me reading this passage about three times to work out how the card was put into the key and then, once dropped in the box, somehow sealed inside a flat envelope.  My conclusion?  Awful, awful writing.

The same thing happens later when discussing a planned illusion of Houdini’s, and in some of the frequent and lengthy interruptions concerning Blackwood’s own magical career.  Maybe there’s some element of hesitation on Mayne’s part when it comes to revealing tricks of the trade, but if you’re so reluctant to reveal the workings of magic tricks then, hey, maybe don’t write a book with magic tricks at its core.  The couple of tricks that’s aren’t explained — a man leaping out over a nineteenth-floor balcony and vanishing in mid-air, for example — are left unaddressed purely to provide cool moments that leave you speculating, and honestly I think I prefer that to the complete non-explanations we do get.  It’s not even that seeing behind the curtain renders any trick mundane; it’s that the explanation doesn’t even work in the situation as described.  A reluctance to share trade secrets, or awful writing?  You decide…


“Oh, dear…”

And then…well, then we need to talk about Damian.

Hairy Aaron, Damian.  It seems no modern thriller can be written without the deus ex machina that is some Mysterious Stranger in the protagonist’s life.  The most outright hilariously bad example of this I’d read prior to Angel Killer was in Painkiller (2016) by N.J. Fountain, but Mayne outdoes that to such an extent that if someone told me the sole purpose of writing this book was to provide a more bullshit plot-forrader I’d probably believe them.  Damian is a multiple personality-adopting possible psychopath who happens to be in love with Blackwood and pops up whenever the plot stumbles into a blind corner.  Can’t work out how our killer is selecting his victims?  Damian appears, and points to a face-matching website.  Can’t convince the owner of that website to allow the FBI to look at his servers?  Sent two different people, including Blackwood, to try to convince him and they both fail?  Damian buys the business off the owner and immediately lays it all open for them.  Can’t work out why the third body doesn’t contain a clue indicating the location or nature of the next crime as the first two did?  Cue Damian with a bit of handy religious philosophy.  No exaggeration: Every.  Single.  Time.  Oh, and spoilers above.  Spoilers.

The Friend of the Protagonist Who Does Stuff They Can’t has a rich history in modern crime fiction — see Hawk in Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels, the wonderful Joe Pike in Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole series, Windsor Horne Lockwood III in Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar books, the hitmen Angel and Louis in the Charlie Parker saga by John Connolly, the technicolour psychopathy of Bubba in the Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro cycle by Dennis Lehane…I could go on.  Essentially, these characters are the modern evolution of the amateur detective or morally-flexible P.I. of classic GAD-era stories who was free to operate in a way the police were not: to make moral decisions that the Law would find reprehensible, to address a crime and accuse the guilty without the need for formal authority or concerns over jurisdiction.  A move towards a more ‘realistic’ bent in crime fiction has seen the ‘character with multiple freedoms’ move over to become the sidekick, and for their remit to shift into rather more morally foggy areas, but the essential relationship is still the same.

Crucially, however, those characters did have some sort of relationship with the protagonists/police, and crucially they were there to aid the plot. Sure, Joe Pike in particular started out like manna from Heaven for the deus ex brigade, but this in part was because in the early 1980s when the likes of he and Hawk were appearing the genre was starting to edge away from the more cynical bent of the 1960s and 70s which had seen the conglomeration of these previously distinct roles: the moral hero who also gets his hand dirty — cf. Dirty Harry, Travis McGee, the fading brutalist misogyny of Mike Hammer — which is why the likes of Jacks Reacher and Bauer struck such a chord as genre throwbacks.  The genre has been through this cycle several times, and the two sides of the character coin always had some kind of relationship or understanding that allowed to operate in some sort of symbiotic, mutually-advantageous manner.

Here, Damian simply helps because Mayne doesn’t know how to plot.  Sure, Damian is…madly in love with Blackwood or something — no other explanation apparently needed — but without Damian there is no plot.  He’s omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omnidespotic in how easily every hurdle falls before him, stooping and bowing and apologising as it backs out of the way and quietly erases all memory of itself from existence.  Even genetics aren’t beyond him, since he’s able to hide his true identity from Blackwood by ensuring she never gets his fingerprints to run through any computers.  How does he do this?  By “putting super glue over his fingerprints”.  Huh, okay.  Except then he also “manually etch[es fake fingerprints] in with the tip of a pin” — even perfectly recreating the fingerprints of William Shatner at one point, as Blackwood discovers when she thinks she’s managed to collect his prints clandestinely.


“Oh, fuck off…”

Damian exists because without Damian there is no book (although, upon reflection, that mightn’t be a bad thing).  Much like John Verdon, Mayne does the Forces of Law and Order no favours in how dolt-headed he depicts them to be — it takes an agonisingly long time for anyone to consider that the body in the grave that looks exactly like the woman buried there and has the same DNA as the woman buried there might be [oh, SPOILERS, I guess, if you care] her twin.  Sure, the crime scene is a surprise and all, but we are a long way into the book before this occurs to anyone.  And, well, how that features into the scheme overall isn’t ever really explained, because the only explanation you get for that opening impossibility is “He dug the coffin up six months ago and replaced it empty, then killed her twin and put her there…”.  That’s it.  That’s the masterplan.  And it doesn’t even answer questions like how the earth around her is undisturbed since, last time I checked, if you want to half-bury someone in the ground you need to dig out some earth to make space for them.  Nor does anyone address the simple fact that, if the body had burrowed its way out of the grave, the earth beneath the surface not be undisturbed — it would be churned up by the person climbing through it.  Nope, instead we need that to go unconsidered so that people can start going on about religion or something because of how gullible they are.  Or something.

And, while we’re here, the killer’s overall scheme is hilarious.  Full spoilers, this is what our killer achieves in this book:

  1. Finds the genetically identical unknown twin sister of an adopted murder victim; digs up the murder victim with no-one noticing a disturbed grave, then, six months later, wounds the sister in the same manner as the murder victim and buries her in a coffin to asphyxiate her.  Digs her up, half-buries her at the orignal grave site, somehow filled with chemicals or explosives so the body is burned at the convenient moment beyond medical usefulness.  Puts sand in the coffin because he has already…

  2. …found — using, uh, vectors and things — a plane that vanished and sank somewhere around Bermuda 70 years ago, which he uses special inflation ring to bring it to the surface.  Via a face-matching website, he finds (and somehow physically locates) a man who is a) virtually identical to the original pilot and b) about to leave the country so his wife can be decoyed with text messages into thinking he’s still alive.  Also, he somehow swaps the record card of the original pilot’s fingerprints so they have this decoy’s fingerprints on them (this is never really covered beyond being a possible explanation).  Puts man in plane and deposit it on a beach, which seems easy to do on your own.  Leaves a feather as the next clue.  Because he also

  3. …hires a Ukrainian woman over the internet to come to the US and smile at a camera on the observation deck of the Empire State Building at a precise moment.  Uses a laser to generate a flash on the camera at that exact moment and, with split second timing, gets the woman to step into the camera’s blind spot to give the impression she disappeared.  At the same time, a mile away in Times Square, he drops an identically-dressed body (with feathers stuck on it) out the back of a moving car while possibly (again, never addressed) simultaneously setting off some sort of air cannon and somehow (never addressed) creating a divot in the ground so it sounds and looks as if the body fell from a great height…all while ensuring that the eyeline of the corpse is pointing with millimetric accuracy towards a distant town so that the eyeline can be overlaid on a map of the United States and lead people directly to that town.  Because, in all of this, he…

  4. …ensures that the locations of each crime when joined up on said map form a pentagram — honestly, this is the bit I have the hardest time believing — one corner of which is his own staging/practice area for these various acts (alas, we’re never told how he practised raising the sunken plane).  And, with this going on, he…

  5. …befriends a 16 year-old girl (while at a Church Camp he definitely had the time to attend) who will be the victim of the fourth murder, but by this point even he isn’t sure what he’s doing and why, so she gets saved despite being a dumbass and he, having gone out of his way to provide this perfect map that points at the precise point where he can be found, sort of sits around — despite talking to this girl on the phone and her telling him that she’s been picked up by the Feds, who he’s been watching and knows are looking for him — and waits for them to arrest him.  Maybe there’s more to this bit, I’ll admit to skipping quite liberally by this point.  Like, clearly Mayne doesn’t care, so why should I?

See?  It’s all complexity and absolutely no elegance.  None.  And why does he go to all this effort?  What’s his motive for this alarmingly unattainable series of actions?  We’re.  Never.  Told.  There’s some vague hint that there’s something bigger going on in the background and that this is only the beginning, but honestly…this book doesn’t even wrap up its own plotlines.  It’s spectacle, spectacle, spectacle, spectacle, and no payoff.  Like a magician talking and talking about how he’s going to perform some amazing trick and then walking off-stage halfway through.


“Oh, dear…”

And, in all honesty, I wouldn’t have such a problem with this — it would be a fun, throwaway nonsense of a thriller — if it embraced the craziness of its setup and just went all-out for maximum OTT cacophony of spills and bonkers possibilities.  But it’s so damn po-faced and so sedentary in how it doles out its various elements that it’s ever given the chance to kick loose.  When you’re 85% of the way through your book and your main character is still stopping the action stone dead to relate yet another story about what it was like growing up with two magic-obsessed generations above her and pointing out yet again how difficult life has been for her because in everything she’s done she’s been a woman in a man’s world, and such an attractive woman at that — good grief, has she (or rather, has Mayne) mentioned how attractive she is? — and this reminds her of that time she was six and watching her grandfather perform on a stage in Fulton, Missourizzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…weren’t you, like, chasing a serial killer a minute ago?  Oh, actually, that’s devolved into complete bullshit — on second thoughts, tell me more about the magic show.

And the ending of this thrill-laced serial killer hunt is such a damp squib that not only do we get a Big Dramatic Scene in which Blackwood must sit for — no, you’re not misreading this — “twelve hours by [myself] in the dark without moving” (which is described as “difficult” — it’s the first line of chapter 50 if you wish to witness this world-record-setting understatement for yourself) lest she set off motion sensors, there’s also a 30 page finale where, the killer caught with minimal fanfare, she’s kidnapped by some rando and…eventually, after more flashbacks and the disinterested relation of some family memories…saved in a manner that adds nothing but is probably just a trailer for the second book.  Also, “chomping at the bit” is not an expression that currently exists in the English language.  Come on Faber, shame on you.

This is a bad book.  Mayne is possibly a very talented magician, and has some highly prestigious collaborators (and David Blaine) on his CV, but he is no novelist, and would have been discouraged from putting this out, I feel, were his name not known in some other circle.  I realise now that I’ve written almost 4,000 words about this without pause, but this sort of lazy, cynical, senseless, ill-conceived trash does no-one any favours.  It wants to bowl you over with its scale and rigour — to give you something previously unseen in terms of magnitude and complexity — and I should commend that ambition, but there’s a reason this sort of fiction is difficult to write.  Magic may rely on the principles of doing more than your audience expects and of selling one thing but offering another, but the nature of this sort of ‘intelligent’ thriller requires you to actually sell what you offer: something that looks brilliant and is brilliant.  For a novel by a magician that has its magician protagonist repeatedly state how people fail to suspect the simplest explanations to blatantly ignore that advice is the worst kind of failure.

Henning Nelms, Clayton Rawson, and Bruce Elliot understood it, and made a great success of it as a result — they showed you the frantically-kicking legs below the surface of the water, and then calmly revealed the peaceful swan gliding above.  By contrast, Mayne wants you to be amazed by the chaos of the paddle steamer’s blades and then to take you by the hand through the internal combustion engine without being able to explain any more than where you put the oil in.  It does the impossible crime, self-published fiction, puzzle plotting, the modern ‘thriller’, and the joy and mystery of magic no favours at all, and — beyond a perverse desire for self-abnegation — I can find no single reason to commend it to you at all, and can’t even be bothered to come up with a pithy final line.  Hopefully the 4,000 words above put you sufficiently in the picture.


As a complete aside, what was the last genuinely intelligent thriller you read?  Wait, let me rephrase that: what was the most recently published genuinely intelligent thriller you read?  I’m not trying to prove anything, I’m just curious.  Mine was probably False Memory (1999) by Dean Koontz — a legitimately brilliant book full of intelligent characters and some startling thrills.  If anyone has anything great they’d recommend, let me know.


40 thoughts on “#515: A Little Help for My Friends – Finding a Modern Locked Room Mystery for TomCat Attempt #10: Angel Killer (2014) by Andrew Mayne

  1. That sounds unspeakably awful. Kudos for taking that one for the team and for providing a review that had me laughing along.
    I’m very tired of anything serial-killer related; I think it’s a very limited concept and lost any interest or usefulness it might have had as a plot driver a long, long time ago. Still, it seems to sell and ever more convoluted and desperately tedious books continue to be built around it all.
    The most recently published/written crime/mystery/thriller I read that had any value? I can’t even think.


    • I dip into a modern thriller every now and then just for a change of pace, but virtually none of it makes it on here because, well, they’re either not relevant to my section of nerdery or, more commonly, they’re not very good. The convolutions some authors go through are extraordinary…but even more astounding is the praise poured down upon this stuff. Jeepers.

      The serial killer novel seems to’ve become an excuse for torture porn, really. Which is fine, that’s the prevailing direction of this sof thing when all the intelligent ideas have been used and — heaven knows — a lot of people want to read that. But can we stop pretending it’s good?!


    • I’m glad I was the one to read it, to be honest. Had someone else written this I might be compelled to be sure it was actually that bad…and then two of us would have wasted our time.

      And it did pass a long train journey in a mildly entertaining way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The weird thing is that as you say, there is one obvious-but-stupid way to kill someone who is already dead (regardless of the climbing out of the coffin nonsense) and most writers, with such a set up, would dismiss it straight away, rather than using it as the solution.

        It reminds me a bit of an early Patricia Cornwall book with the idea that DNA at a crime scene was found of a killer who had been executed months earlier. That had an even less exciting resolution – SPOILERS just in case

        He wasn’t dead…


        • I read that Patricia Cornwell book! Back when I was still trying to find my way in crime fiction and she was in that baffling era of early-2000s popularity she enjoyed. Yes, it was very bad.

          And, yes, the fact that Mayne comes in so late to a genre that’s already done so much of this type of thing and still offers up a flat cliche after such an intirguing setup — what the hell? Do these authors really think that readers and authors of this sort of fiction are such idiots that those schemes won’t have been tried and seen and dismissed before? What next? A gripping murder on a snowbound train where is turns out — gasp! — everyone is the killer?!?!

          Hey, I better write that before the idea occurs to anyone else ever.


          • There was a time for me too, before I stumbled across Carr and other non-Crime Queen contemporaries Of Christie, where I was getting frustrated with the “current” crime fiction scene. All I can say is thank goodness for Jeffry Deaver who kept me entertained until I discovered Carr and Queen…


  2. Sounds like Mayne gave a whole new meaning to the magician’s dump box with Angel Killers. Honestly, you may have found something as abysmal and messy as David Marsh’s Dead Box. So thanks for tying my name to this abortion! ;D

    what was the most recently published genuinely intelligent thriller you read?

    As you know, I don’t really read thrillers, but M.P.O. Books’ 2014 police-thriller, Cruise Control, certainly fits the criteria for a (relatively) recently published genuinely intelligent thriller. I also like Max Allan Collins’ historical Disaster Series, but they were published during the late ’90s and early ’00s. My favorite intelligent thriller is probably Bill Pronzini’s Shackles, which was published in 1988. So that one definitely doesn’t count.


    • Dude, ten books into this I think we know full well it’s not being done for your benefit. I’m trmpeted to try to turn it into a sort of homage series to Noah’s 100 Books to Die Before You Read but, unlike Noah, I still have so much good stuff to get through first.

      M.P.O. Books is only avaiable in Danish though, right? I seem to remember there being a couple of great-sounding impossibilities from him on your blog which, because I barely manage in my native tongue, were unavailable to me.

      I have no doubt there are great thrillers out there — I’m a huge Matthew Reilly fan in my other life, though they don’t qualify since the whole point is that they’re as overblown and ridiculous as it’s possible to be, and more power to him — but I’d like to find some more recent good ones. Just some good ones would do for now.


      • Danish? Have you have become an American and lost your ability to distinguish between Dutch and Danish?

        Yes, Books has penned quite a few impossible crime novels and short stories. De blikvanger (The Eye-Catcher) has a minor locked room mystery towards the end, but Een afgesloten huis (A Sealed House) is a full-blown impossible crime novel with a very subtle, highly symbolic “cameo” by a certain Dutch mystery blogger. It was so subtly done that Books had to point it out to me in an email (a cat tries to get into the locked house). But as “Anne van Doorn,” he really has been picking up steam as a kind of Paul Halter of the Low Countries.

        I have some good news. It has been confirmed that either later this year or early next year, a translation of “De dichter die zichzelf opsloot” (“The Poet Who Locked Himself In”) will be published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Hopefully, this will open the door to getting “Het huis dat ongeluk bracht” (“The House That Brought Bad Luck”) translated.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, sorry, clearly been huffing the meths a bit too heavily this morning. Dutch, obviously. Jeepers, I do apologise.

          And, hey, I’ll raise your cameo on an impossible crime novel — which is sort of wonderful, let’s be honest — and point out that the writer of the introductions to the early Ellery Queen books is a reference to me 😛


          • In fact, the tomcat in my story is the first to discover a crime’s been commited. He smells the blood drops on the ground, coming from the locked house. The irony is, however, that the cat can’t get in to investigate! CCTV footage shows he’s in a sorrowful mindset. The Sorrowing Tomcat (De treurende kater), also happens to be the title of one of TomCat’s favorite detective novels written by A.C. Baantjer. Guess where TomCat got his pseudonym from…

            By the way, my story (under pseudonym Anne van Doorn) “The poet who locked himself in” was recently published in EQMM. Mike Grost counts it among his favorite short detective stories of the year. I’m delighted to see that he and others enjoyed my writing.


            • Yeah, I’ve heard great things about ‘The Poet Who Locked Himself In’ — looking forward to tracking it down, and to any others that follow. Welcome to this side of the language barrier!


            • Well, English isn’t so difficult if you compare it to Danish… Fortunately there’s Google Translate to pass that language barrier too: Tak for din velkomstbesked! Or, an easy one, in Dutch: bedankt voor je welkomstbericht.


  3. “The Poet Who Locked Himself In” will indeed appear in the Sept/Oct issue of EQMM, credited to Anne van Doorn and translated by verschrikkelijke ikke. (The sane issue will also include a new non-series story of my own, “The Secret Lagoon,” set in Iceland.)


    • Oustanding news! Great to see the “Passport to Crime” continuing to find new and exciting foreign language prospects. I look forward to it!


      • Just out of curiosity… what did you think of “The Poet Who Locked Himself In” and have you read anything else by Books? I can recommend De laatste kans (The Last Chance), which is (IMHO) one of the finest Dutch, classically-styled detective novels ever written and needs to be translated. Zie het als onze bijdrage aan ontwikkelingshulp in het buitenland. 😀

        And JJ, check your email already. I’m eagerly awaiting your response to my part of our collaboration.


        • Sorry that I’ve only just now spotted this. I liked “The Poet Who Locked Himself In,” which is why I agreed to translate it! (Translation is a hobby for me, so I can afford to say no to projects that don’t interest me.) The September/October issue of EQMM containing my translation of the story is now out, with a nice introduction to the story from editor Janet Hutchings. Books sent me a copy of De mysteries van Robbie Corbijn, which I’m looking forward to reading when I can find the time. If there was a publisher interested in an English edition of De laatste kans, I’d certainly be interested in doing the translation!


  4. This sounds …. interesting! Thanks for the heads up about the book, given that I usually avoid modern thrillers like the plague, I likely wouldn’t have read this ever, but at the very least you spared the minds of a few fellow mystery lovers!

    But god damn, just by the spoilers about the solution I can’t help but come to the conclusion that this is perhaps one of the hottest messes you could ever read. Those solutions are so wonky in set up and basic circumstances that I have to give some credit to the author for ever dreaming them up.


    • There might — might! — be a good short story somewhere in one of these if time were given to develop them, but it’s in such a rush to gloss over the details (and so much is left undetermined — it’s almost like there’s going to be a sequel where it’s shown all the answers divined here were wrong…but that’s not going to happen, it’s just bad writing) that everything feels underexposed and falls apart with the slightest scrutiny.

      For example, finding and recovering the plane: the military searched for it for years…and somehow our killer just…finds it. And is able to get down to whatever depth it was with professional salvage equipment, refloat it, and single-handedly return it to the beach while also getting perfect match for the pilot and installing him in it with no effort at all. …what?!

      Hell, I’d read an inverted thriller which shows us the guy doing all this stuff over this dreck any day. And sure, it takes imagination, but let’s not confuse “huh, that took a lot of thinking around” with “hey, that’s pretty good”.


  5. haha sounds like you needed a lie down in a dark room after reading this one (and then writing the review).
    Probably being a bit dense but how would covering your fingers in glue work on a day to day basis – wouldn’t the glue melt/disintegrate off in the heat?
    Also you had me laughing (quite a few times), but in particular about the way the female protagonist keeps mentioning how attractive she is. It is bizarre why male writers create female characters like that. I often enjoy tweets where various tweeters have picked out these ludicrous moments such as when a female character in impossibly tight jeans puts £500 in cash in her front jean pocket and then sits down… (no doubt getting a face full of money as it all flies out of her pocket…)

    Anyways well done for taking another one for the GAD/blogging team


    • I’m intrgiued by the covering of his fingerprints, too. Does he only do it when he meets with our heroine? And how did he get William Shatner’s prints? And how in hell does he etch them in with a pin? Jesus, he my plan these meetings years in advance.

      Unless, twist, he is William Shatner, and hadn’t actualy covered his fingerprints at all. Oh, my, rethinking this entire book with the <i<deus ex machina character just being William Shatner the whole time actually makes it the sort of crazy-fun it needs to be…

      I didn’t not enjoy it — it’s been a tough couple of weeks, and it was nice to be able to pour scorn into something that just kept getting worse and worse and worse. If it can’t be great and get me excited about the other two books in the series, being absolutely godawful is the next best thing, let’s admit it 🙂


  6. This sounds terrific!! Just bought my copy and will let you know what I think when I finish.

    Of course, I didn’t read words 1,001 to 5,011 of your review yet. Didn’t want to spoil anything . . . Thanks, JJ!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I honestly thought I could have handled this book (with some reservations) until you got to the killer’s scheme. That’s a spicy mess of nonsense.

    I’ve never met a flat-earther, but I’ve always wanted to. There are questions I’m dying to ask — What’s the end game? Who benefits? Why? How? The fact that the killer’s endgame for creating all these complications is never spelled out…well, I can see why this was a frustrating experience for you. The really funny part is that the endgame can be so very simple. One of my favorites is, “She stole my teddy bear when I was a child, and now I want her dead.” It works every time.


    • There’s a strong indication that this is The First Part of A Far Larger Puzzle…but, dude, when the picture on this box is this unappealing I have no intention of seeing how this plays out. And I’m guessing it’s not really explained anyway. Too many other things to rush through in the sequels, I’m sure.

      I’m going to tell myself that the killer here wrote terrible Power Rangers fan fiction that was widely-derided online and so decided the “show them…” but sort of got carried away as the schemes got more and more complex, and then just had to style it out when the intended aim was lost to years of scouring the ocean floor and waiting for two genetically-identical women who were unaware of each other’s existence to waltz into his life and then waiting for one of them to be murdered and buried in a conveniently-rural cemetary with no CCTV and lousy security. And all the old reddit users on that thread are now like “Oh, heeeeyy, you guys remember PowerZord325? You’ll never guess what that guy went and did…!”

      Yeah, I like thuis book a lot more now.


  8. I enjoyed the Apricot Pomeranian photos – the one with the cutely perched paw. 🤩 But it didn’t seem like the sort of puppy who would swear. 😒

    Oops, sorry, I should be commenting on the book instead. 😅 Sorry that you like it much, if at all. Will “Murder at Redmire Hall” make an appearance soon?


    • I’m doing another month of self-published impossibilities i June to coincide with James Scott Byrnside’s second novel, and Murder at Redmire Hall will be one of those. “Is it self-published?” you ask, and I say “Well, it wouldn’t be in my AiSP were it not, hey?” — all will be explained.

      As for the pomeranian, unfortunately anyone raised in this Internet Age has access to all manner of vile language and expressions. I’ll put her on half rations for the next week and tell her how disappointed you are.


  9. I am not going to gloat over YASPD (yet another self publishing disaster).
    But I AM going to say I told you so! 😉

    Genuinely intelligent modern thrillers … I am not the guy to ask, since their scarcity is one reason why I read few modern thrillers.

    Presumed Innocent by Turow. Hmmm, that was over 30 years ago …
    Thick as Thieves by Spiegelman from a few years ago would qualify.


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