Category: 42 Word Retrospectives


Triplet by Timothy Zahn (Baen, 1987) Zahn finds a fresh way to mix fantasy and SF but becomes too caught up in worldbuilding and posing scenario-specific problems for his characters to solve. The actual story is little more than advanced role-playing, the high-stakes threat just another intellectual exercise.

Till Death Do Us Part

Till Death Do Us Part by John Dickson Carr (Hamish Hamilton, 1944) audiobook read by Kris Dyer (Soundings, 2022) A thoroughly ingenious locked room murder mystery, but one in which the author focusses too much on obfuscation. The narrator stumbles from confusion to confusion while the detective (Gideon Fell) skirts the main issue and sits pretty but silent on the…


Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott (Seeley & Co., 1884) audiobook read by James Langton (Tantor, 2009) A mercifully short ‘mathematical’ SF novel in which a square, learning of the hitherto unknown third dimension, narrates the workings of his own two-dimensional world. Flatland is readable as a (late 19th Century) social satire, but the story has…

The Murder at the Vicarage

The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie (Collins Crime Club, 1930); audiobook read by Joan Hickson (Lamplight Audiobooks, 2015) The first Miss Marple novel is inventive enough, though for much of the book Marple herself is sidelined and the detection takes place via committee. Joan Hickson is a curious choice of audiobook narrator, given that Reverend Clement is the…

The Bug Wars

The Bug Wars by Robert Asprin (New English Library, 1980) [first published St Martin’s Press, 1979] Beneath the horribly pulpy title lies a well-measured, almost cerebral piece of military SF. All the characters are insectoid, yet they engage the reader every bit as much as Earthly protagonists would, their committed hive mentality evoking western perceptions of Asian soldiers.

Thou Shell of Death

Thou Shell of Death by Nicholas Blake (Collins, 1936); audiobook read by Kris Dyer (Bolinda, 2015) A marked improvement on the first book. Nigel Strangeways appears from the outset and isn’t so abstruse in puzzling out the murder(s). Still, he remains slow on the uptake—less dazzling detective, more scatter-brained dilettante bumbling his way through a crossword puzzle.

The Adventures of John and Tigger

The Adventures of John and Tigger by Delia Huddy; ill. John Spiers (Hamlyn, 1979) A collection of three short stories for young school children. Rather sweetly, the adventures are thoroughly domestic and humdrum, revolving around family life, playing with friends, and visiting relatives—albeit that this last escapade involves a runaway car! A little bit Pooh-like.

Five Go to Mystery Moor

Five Go to Mystery Moor by Enid Blyton (Hodder & Stoughton, 1953); audiobook read by Jan Francis (Bolinda, 2021) The children’s classist (pitched as precocious) assumption of superiority remains off-putting, but the supporting characters are memorably drawn and the set-up pays off in a sudden breathless rush, transforming the meander into a boys’ own (and girls-as-boys’ own!) adventure with real…