I'm very pleased with The Best American Mystery Stories 2010 (The Best American Series (R)). I do so-oo enjoy short stories at certain times, times when I might get interrupted a lot. And this year this book arrived at the perfect time. I was halfway finished with it when I went out of town a few days for Thanksgiving.
Since the main reason I enjoy short stories is that I can usually finish one in one or two "sittings," this was the perfect book to take with me. As it worked out, there were times when many family members traipsed through my daughter's home and then other times when we were alone for hours. Those conditions made the perfect climate to read these delightful little mysterious tales of crime. I can't believe how perfect it worked out. I was on the last story when we left for my return trip home and since her daughter accompanied us back, while they jabbered, I sat back and read--which made the drive seem much shorter. As good luck would have it, I finished the final story, "Blood and Dirt" by Ryan Zimmerman, when we were two blocks from my home.
Now on with my review: As other reviewers have told you, this book is part of a series called The Best American Series edited by Otto Penzler. He and others narrowed the submissions down to fifty and then passed those along to, Lee Child, the guest editor for this 2010 edition; he in turn, narrowed it to twenty. Since I thrive on the works of Lee Child, acclaimed author of the "Jack Reacher" series, and Otto Penzler, famous editor of mystery fiction in the United States and proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, I suspected this book would be chock full of chills and thrills.
And I was right; there wasn't a bad one in the batch! Lee Child did a masterful job of selecting an eclectic mix.
As I read, I chose not to pay attention to who wrote each individual story because I didn't want "fame" or author gender making my "favorite" choices for me. Since I'm known for supporting new authors, I wanted to be absolutely fair. In the end, I was pleased with my four choices: two were, indeed, big-name authors and two were lesser known. So it worked out!
I wasn't surprised that Dennis Lehane's "Animal Rescue" was my very favorite, even if I didn't know he wrote it. He is a wonderful writer. As LeHane says, this story is basically about loneliness. A loner bartender finds an injured dog in the "trash" and is aided in his rescue by a lonely young woman. In the process of caring for the dog they become close... My first choice must be a wise one because LeHane is now in the process of writing a screen adaptation of it for 20th Century Fox.
I was more than pleased that my second choice was "Designer Justice," especially when I learned that the author, Phyllis Cohen, had only had one other short story published before her death. (Be sure to read the contributor's note at back of the book, written by her widower. It's heart-breaking, with touches of humor.) This story is about justice served upon a petty crook who robs rich people. He kills a woman in a robbery, gets caught and then acquitted by a clever attorney. And you will never guess who hired the attorney and what justice that person metes out to the killer. A real chiller...worthy of Edgar Allen Poe.
My third choice is a delightfully clever story of ten attorneys who were kidnapped in San Antonio by the Mexican Army during the early years before Texas was a state. The prisoners endured rough treatment, formed close bonds, and were finally released several years later. When they went back to reclaim their former positions, they found other attorneys had taken their places. In the trouble that ensues, one of the prisoners kills someone and the others band to get him cleared in a very imaginative, clever way. Excellent plot and clear, clean writing by Jay Brandon, a writer who was formerly unknown to me, even though he's written fifteen novels and won many awards. I can see why!
I was also delighted to learn that the writer of my fourth choice is the late, great Kurt Vonnegut..ever lovable, ever the best. "Ed Luby's Key Club" is about a former Al Capone bodyguard and bootlegger who moved up to own an exclusive club and restaurant. He thinks he's immune to the law and when he commits a crime, he blames it on a happily married man with a number of children. Since Ed "owns" the town, poor Harve doesn't stand a chance. Nobody but a young doctor believes him and what that doctor does to prove Harve's innocence is extremely clever. Justice is served in a style only Vonnegut could conceive. Vonnegut, as you know, was one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, known for his satire, dark stories and sci-fi.
Just think, folks--there are sixteen other stories just as spooky and delicious to entertain you...served up in juicy little tidbits to nibble on as time allows.
I really had a high time with this book at Thanksgiving. All that and turkey and all the trimmings too.
Review by Betty Dravis, December 2, 2010
Author of "Dream Reachers" (with Chase Von) and other books