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The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century [Paperback]

Tony Hillerman , Otto Penzler
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 13 2001 Best American
In THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES OF THE CENTURY, best-selling author Tony Hillerman and mystery expert Otto Penzler present an unparalleled treasury of American suspense fiction that every fan will cherish. Offering the finest examples from all reaches of the genre, this collection charts the mystery's eminent history from the turn-of-the-century puzzles of Futrelle, to the seminal pulp fiction of Hammett and Chandler, to the mystery story's rise to legitimacy in the popular mind, a trend that has benefited masterly writers like Westlake, Hunter, and Grafton. Nowhere else can readers find a more thorough, more engaging, more essential distillation of American crime fiction.
Penzler, the Best American Mystery Stories series editor, and Hillerman winnowed this select group out of a thousand stories, drawing on sources as diverse as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Esquire, Collier's and The New Yorker. Giants of the genre abound -- Raymond Chandler, Stephen King, Dashiell Hammett, Lawrence Block, Ellery Queen, Sara Paretsky, and others -- but the editors also unearthed gems by luminaries rarely found in suspense anthologies: William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Damon Runyon, Harlan Ellison, James Thurber, and Joyce Carol Oates. Mystery buffs and newcomers alike will delight in the thrilling stories and top-notch writing of a hundred years' worth of the finest suspense, crime, and mystery writing.

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From Amazon

Anthologies are tricky things for editors: to select a story for inclusion is to make oneself a target for readers who wonder hotly why X or Y or Z wasn't chosen. And to be so brash as to deem an anthology the best anything of the century practically invites scorn and condemnation. But with The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, Tony Hillerman, Edgar-winning author, and Otto Penzler, founder of the Mysterious Press, step boldly to the firing line with a salvo of 55 stories that are so devious and absorbing, challenging and rewarding that most readers will hold their fire.

The collection stretches from O. Henry's 1903 tale of a bank robber who abandons his trade ("A Retrieved Reformation") to Dennis Lehane's unsettling sketch of a post-Gothic southern town and its canine conundrum ("Running Out of Dog," 1999), and brings together authors who at first seem uneasy bedfellows. William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway jostle for space with Donald Westlake and Stephen Greenleaf; Willa Cather and Flannery O'Conner stare combatively at Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton. But as one reads along, these potentially tense alliances relax: the boundaries between "modern" and "classic," "pulp" and "literature" evanesce, leaving instead a shimmering web of serendipitous affiliations: O. Henry and Stephen King nod amiably to one another, united by the skill of their devious narrative twists.

Hillerman and Penzler's selections reflect a century-long shift in mystery fiction from an emphasis on an exterior landscape--replete with the tangible artifacts of who, what, where, when, how, why--to a growing interest in the geography of interiority. This landscape thrives on the amorphousness of its own features. In Tom Franklin's "Poachers," for example, the puzzle hardly matters at all: real people, and their endlessly convoluted relationships, do. Three orphaned brothers who live as predators in the swamps of the Gulf Coast, the old widower who loves them, the sheriff who pities them all--who kills two of the boys and blinds a third? We never really know. In any case, Franklin's infinitely shaded nuances of silence and speech matter far more than the violence of the crime itself.

And for those readers who, when all is read and done, still insist that they could have done a much better job of judging, Penzler's disarming editorial shrug serves to remind that any anthology should be approached with equanimity, a touch of resignation, and not a little humor: "There are no scientific instruments that can tell a reader which of Harlan Ellison's two Edgar-winning short stories is better. It is a coin toss, and it can't be anything else. Let's just live with it." Happily, The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century is an extraordinarily rewarding companion. --Kelly Flynn --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Hillerman, one of America's most distinguished crime novelists (The First Eagle, The Fallen Man, etc.), and Penzler, Mysterious Bookshops owner and Mysterious Press founder as well as series editor of the publisher's Best American Mystery Stories, have pooled their considerable expertise to pick the 55 tales that make up this hefty compendium. In between O. Henry's "A Retrieved Reformation" (1903) and Dennis Lehane's "Running Out of Dog" (1999), the editors include short gems by classic masters (Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler) and contemporary giants (Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky). Well represented also are authors not usually associated with the field (Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates). In his foreword, Penzler entertainingly describes the formidable and sometimes subjective process of winnowing thousands of possible stories to a manageable number. Hillerman, meanwhile, who made the final selection, comments in his introduction on the genre's evolution from puzzle mystery for an elite readership 100 years ago to something much more substantial and democratic today, taking issue with critics such as Edmund Wilson and Jacques Barzun--who, he says, have failed to appreciate mystery's literary and social worth. Fans are sure to agree with Hillerman. This anthology is a cornerstone volume for any mystery library. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Regardless of whether you agree with the choices of all the stories selected within this book, it is a great representation of american mystery stories in the 20th century. The inclusion of some of the centuries most prolific mystery writers, (Chandler, Hammett, Cain, MacDonald (Ross & John D.)), famous novelists (Faulkner, Steinbeck, Buck), modern writers (Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, Sue Grafton, etc.), and countless others make this a fantastic collection. Only a "sour grapes" type of personality could not appreciate this book. I guarantee that this collection will have you wanting to read more from some of these authors, and probably expose you to authors you weren't aware of previously. With stories varying from 10 to 40 pages, you can choose how long you want to read. I am an avid mystery reader, and I while there are many great books and stories I have read, I feel this is the best purchase I have made for the assortment of authors, styles, and stories I have been exposed to.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Now here is a great book! July 19 2000
By Brenda
The stories in it reminded me of the great writers I enjoyed much earlier in the century. I liked the fact that they dated the stories to let the reader know when they were written. I must commend Tony Hillerman for his impressive choices; it couldn't have been an easy job. I can tell you right now, don't expect to read it in one week, not even in a month. I do recommend you savor and enjoy these stories slowly, even repeatedly, over an extended length of time, possibly even between other mysteries. What I mean is, who would WANT to hurry through such classics as James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, William Faulkner, Susan Glaspell, Stephen Greenleaf, Dashell Hammett, O Henry, Sue Grafton, or Flannery O'Connor? And that's just a drop in the bucket of Who's Who in this 813-page book.
Flannery O'Connor is one of my all time favorites. She has a strong way of making a point; her endings have always taken me by surprise. Her 1965-story The Comforts of Home, about a son still living with his mother and the unwelcome guest she brings home, has the honor of being included. Another great one is, Susan Glaspell's 1917 story, A Jury of Her Peers; a story of a husband who hung himself while still in bed. Then there's a 1905 story by Willa Cather called Paul's Case; about a recently released safe cracker who may or may not go straight. Be sure to read Tony Hillerman's introduction. He tells the reader the difference between literature and mystery and how mystery has evolved. On my keeper shelf it goes!
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5.0 out of 5 stars An incredible anthology March 23 2000
Talk about pressure. The goal is to select fifty-five tales with each twentieth century decade having at least three entries written by American authors to represent the best mystery short stories of the last hundred years. That is what Tony Hillerman and Otto Penzler set out to do and succeeded.

As expected many of the famous classic mystery writers such Hammett, Queen, and Chandler have works included in this tome. Also not surprising is that several of current popular authors such as Block, Paretsky, and Lehane have works contained in the anthology. It will be very startling to some fans that members of the Who's Who of American literature includes names such as O'Henry, Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Thurber. Added to the mix is an explanation on the selection process by Penzler and a brief historical look at how vast the genre has grown from its roots.

Harriet Klausner
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughts from one of the Writers Grandsons July 16 2000
I just wanted to tell everyone how good this book is. I am a grandson of Harry Kemelman. This might be a biased opinion of the book but oh well. It is very heartwarming to see one of my Grandfathers greatest writings included in this excellent compilation of stories. I would reccomend this book to all who like mysteries. Not only is my grandfathers book great but all of the writers stories in this compilation are of the highest caliber.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good Collection April 7 2002
Some stories you've read, some forgotten, some never heard of before, are the rewards in this fine anthology. Take the time to enjoy this one.
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