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The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories [Hardcover]

Tony Hillerman , Rosemary Herbert
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 30 1999
Edgar Allan Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue" launched the detective story in 1841. The genre began as a highbrow form of entertainment, a puzzle to be solved by a rational sifting of clues. In Britain, the stories became decidedly upper crust: the crime often commited in a world of manor homes and formal gardens, the blood on the Persian rug usually blue. But from the beginning, American writers worked important changes on Poe's basic formula, especially in language and locale. And with World War I, the Roaring '20s, the rise of organized crime and corrupt police with Prohibition, and the Great Depression, American detective fiction branched out in all directions, lead by writers such as Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, who brought crime out of the drawing room and into the "mean streets" where it actually occured. In The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories, Tony Hillerman and Rosemary Herbert bring together thirty-four tales that illuminate both the evolution of crime fiction in the United States and America's unique contribution to this highly popular genre. Tracing its progress from elegant "locked room" mysteries, to the hard-boiled realism of the '30s and '40s, to the great range of styles seen today, this superb collection includes virtually all the great crime writers, including Erle Stanley Gardner, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Rex Stout, Ellery Queen, Ed McBain, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, and Hillerman himself. There are also many delightful surprises: Bret Harte, for instance, offers a Sherlockian pastiche with a hero named Hemlock Jones, and William Faulkner blends local color, authentic dialogue, and dark, twisted pride in "An Error in Chemistry." We meet a wide range of sleuths, from armchair detective Nero Wolfe, to Richard Sale's journalist Daffy Dill, to Robert Leslie Bellem's wise-cracking Dan Turner, to Linda Barnes's six-foot, red-haired, taxi-driving female P.I., Carlotta Carlyle. And we sample a wide variety of styles, from tales with a strongly regional flavor, to hard-edged pulp fiction, to stories with a feminist perspective. Perhaps most important, the book offers a brilliant summation of America's signal contribution to crime fiction, highlighting the myriad ways in which we have reshaped this genre. The editors show how Raymond Chandler used crime, not as a puzzle to be solved, but as a spotlight with which he could illuminate the human condition; how Ed McBain, in "A Small Homicide," reveals a keen knowledge of police work as well as of the human sorrow which so often motivates crime; and how Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer solved crime not through blood stains and footprints, but through psychological insight into the damaged lives of the victim's family. And throughout, the editors provide highly knowledgeable introductions to each piece, written from the perspective of fellow writers and reflecting a life-long interest--not to say love--of this quintessentially American genre. American crime fiction is as varied and as democratic as America itself. Hillerman and Herbert bring us a goldmine of glorious stories that can be read for sheer pleasure, but that also illuminate how the crime story evolved from the drawing room to the back alley, and how it came to embrace every corner of our nation and every facet of our lives.

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From Publishers Weekly

Hillerman, author of the Joe Leaphorn mysteries, and Herbert, editor of The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing, trace this short-story genre from its beginnings in the hands of Edgar Allen Poe through its development by the likes of Erle Stanley Gardner, Mary Roberts Rinehart and Anthony Boucher to its current practice by such masters as Marcia Muller. Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," which established a great many of the whodunit conventions, is indispensable to such an overview. Raymond Chandler's "I'll be Waiting" emits a doom-laden atmosphere right from the first line; William Faulkner shows unexpected economy of language?and a transparent plot?in "An Error in Chemistry." Ed McBain scores high marks in "Small Homicide," in which the tiny details of a baby's untimely death resonate uncomfortably. As represented in this competent, unstartling collection, Linda Barnes ("Lucky Penny") easily outsasses Sue Grafton ("The Parker Shotgun"). Hillerman makes a solid appearance with "Chee's Witch," and in "Benny's Space" Muller captures the full subtle force of her novel-length vision.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

Though Hillerman's introduction notes his impatience with ``the rules'' of the detective story's Golden Age, this magisterial selection of 34 stories is remarkably evenhanded, proceeding from Poe to Ross Macdonald and Rex Stout with scarcely a notable omission (except for Dashiell Hammett, for copyright reasons). The emphasis here is on familiar items, though work by less well-known writers like Richard Sale and Robert Leslie Bellem provide welcome variety. The problem comes in the last hundred pages--all the room the editors leave for the past 30 years. The stories by Bill Pronzini, Edward D. Hoch, Linda Barnes, Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, and editor Hillerman are mostly exemplary; but other recent masters of the short story- -like Loren D. Estleman and Ed Gorman and Lawrence Block--must wonder why they weren't included when historical curios by Anna Katherine Green and Arthur B. Reeve were. The anthology as museum, with Hillerman and Herbert as suave a pair of curators as you could wish. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Although his life was short and tragic, Edgar Allan Poe is considered by a few to be the founder of American letters, by many to be the inventor of horror stories and fantasy novels, and by one and all to be the father of detective fiction. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I am taking a class this semester, Mysteries, and this book is the required text. I have always enjoyed mysteries, but this book has added to that pleasure immensely. Hillerman and Herbert have done an extraordinary job of piecing together a good representative slice of American detective/mystery writers past and present. The books begins with Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." The editors wrap the selection up with Marcia Muller's "Benny's Space," published in 1991. The book spans the evolution of the American detective story throughout its entire history.
I highly recommend this anthology to anyone who enjoys reading the short story. With few exceptions, the stories in this book are very enjoyable mysteries.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting selection Sept. 20 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
There are a good mix of stories here. They range over a broad time period, early to present. I like the fact that there were some authors I haven't read yet, or others that I never associated with mysteries. The reason I didn't give it five stars is that there were quite a few stories that I had already read in other anthologies. Nice introductions to each story, with background info on the author.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable collection of American detective fiction April 4 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I am taking a class this semester, Mysteries, and this book is the required text. I have always enjoyed mysteries, but this book has added to that pleasure immensely. Hillerman and Herbert have done an extraordinary job of piecing together a good representative slice of American detective/mystery writers past and present. The books begins with Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." The editors wrap the selection up with Marcia Muller's "Benny's Space," published in 1991. The book spans the evolution of the American detective story throughout its entire history.
I highly recommend this anthology to anyone who enjoys reading the short story. With few exceptions, the stories in this book are very enjoyable mysteries.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Breaking the Rules, the Evolution of the American Detective Story - Good Collection Jan. 16 2006
By Michael Wischmeyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Critics have observed that the widely popular detective story is essentially a literary game, and have speculated that readers might tire of its structured formula, thereby leading to the eventual disappearance of this genre. Nonetheless, after more than 150 years, the mystery story remains vibrant. Why is this so? The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories provides an answer.

Tony Hillerman and Rosemary Herbert have assembled stories that trace the evolution of the American detective short story. Their contention, amply supported by their selections, is that American authors have stretched, modified, and violated the rules and structural form of the detective story, thereby continuously enriching this genre, and ensuring its longevity. Each story is preceded with an interesting, one-page discussion on topics like the emergence of credible female detectives, the growth of regionalism, and the development of authentic, psychologically complex characters.

This literary theme is interesting in itself, but the primary attraction is the stories. I especially liked I'll Be Waiting (Raymond Chandler), Small Homicide (Ed McBain), Guilt-Edged Blonde (Ross MacDonald), Christmas Party (Rex Stout), Words Do Not A Book Make (Bill Pronzini), Benny's Space (Marcia Muller) and Chee's Witch (Tony Hillerman).

Some were titles that I have encountered elsewhere: Rear Window (Cornell Woolrich), The Problem of Cell 13 (Jacques Futrelle), The Doomdorf Mystery (Melville Davisson Post), The Parker Shotgun (Sue Grafton), An Error in Chemistry (Faulkner) and The Murders in the Rue Morgue (Poe). Others were by early masters of this genre: Erle Stanley Gardner, John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Anthony Boucher, and Edward Hoch.

All in all, the thirty-three stories selected by Hillerman and Herbert create a satisfying, enjoyable anthology, one that will appeal to avid readers of detective fiction.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting selection Sept. 20 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There are a good mix of stories here. They range over a broad time period, early to present. I like the fact that there were some authors I haven't read yet, or others that I never associated with mysteries. The reason I didn't give it five stars is that there were quite a few stories that I had already read in other anthologies. Nice introductions to each story, with background info on the author.
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