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The Best American Mystery Stories 2010 Paperback – Sep 28 2010
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Review"This collection is sure to please mystery fans as well as those who enjoy short stories"--Library Journal
"The 20 short stories in the 14th edition of this “best of” series offer a wider variety than some of its predecessors...While this volume contains relatively few household names, the quality certainly doesn’t suffer as a result."--Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
"Penzler’s foreword...in favor of an eclectic mix of tales that exhibit crime in all its varieties in every corner of the world—and then some."--Kirkus Reviews
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There are twenty stories here that cover a wide range of styles and subject matter. The authors included are as follows; Gary Alexander, R. A. Allen, Doug Allyn, Mary Stewart Atwell, Matt Bell, Jay Brandon, Phyllis Cohen, John Dufresne, Lyndsay Faye, Gar Anthony Haywood, Jon Land, Dennis Lehane, Lynda Leidiger, Phillip Margolin, Chris Muessig, Albert Tucher, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Wallace, Mike Wiecek, and Ryan Zimmerman. As is always true with any collection of short stories, some of these appealed to me more than others, although I will say that the overall quality was very good. These are very short descriptions of seven of my favorites.
Doug Allyn - AN EARLY CHRISTMAS - police procedural - an attorney's car goes off the road and he is killed when it burns. Evidence at the scene indicates murder. The victim's soon-to-be ex-wife can't seem to help the detectives but she does seem to be hiding some information. There are many more books written by this author and I look forward to exploring them.
Mat Bell - DREDGE - A middle aged man finds the body of a murdered young woman floating in the pond. He "rescues" her and puts her in his freezer. This story had my hair standing on end. It and others are in a collection by this author titled HOW THEY WERE FOUND.
Jay Brandon - A JURY OF HIS PEERS - Based on a true historical event in 1842, this concerns the lawyers of a small Texas border town who were all kidnapped and taken to Mexico before Texas was part of the United States. Fascinating to read this authors ideas of what might have been going on back in the town while they were in prison. There are many books written by this author for me to explore.
Lyndsay Faye - THE CASE OF COLONEL WARBURTON'S MADNESS - A very well written Sherlock Holmes/Dr Watson tale with Watson asking Holmes to provide a solution for something which happened to him while he was practicing medicine in San Francisco. This author has written a full length book, DUST AND SHADOWS, which I will definitely be reading.
Jon Land - KILLING TIME - A paid assassin has failed at his last assignment and now his bosses want him dead. He assumes the identity of someone else, but trouble still finds him. This author has many books to chose from and I look forward to reading more of his writing.
Chris Muessig - BIAS - a police procedural where the investigating officer knew the victim and is determined to find the killer. A very touching story because it points out the utter senselessness of so many murders. I can not find any other books written by this author and that is a great disappointment to me.
Kurt Vonnegut - ED LUBY'S KEY CLUB - This was a wonderful example of how awful a town can become when it is taken over by corruption. But it also shows how that corruption doesn't have to continue. There are many other books written by this great author.
Another of the things I enjoyed very much about this book was the inclusion of a brief biography of each author and commentary from them concerning the story in the collection. I found this to be a really diverse, interesting and absorbing series of stories.
Most of the stories are flat out crime fiction, where what we see is a horrible violent crime usually told from the perspective of the perpetrators. We know Whodunnit, Howdunnit and often Whydunnit, there's little or no mystery.
And of course, that's my issue here- in my humble opinion, a "Mystery" story has one... a "mystery" that is. I thus disagree with the Editor here, he claims a "Mystery" includes any story in which a crime occurs. He particularly likes psychological "Whydunnits".
The Editor also gives a little sneer at "what mostly passes for detective stories these days" with "an amateur who has taken time off from his or her primary occupation of cooking, gardening, knitting, hairdressing or shopping." Personally, although I am a huge fan of Nero Wolfe (who clearly wouldn't get into this collection), I enjoy those kinds of mysteries myself.
Well, to be far, the Editor makes his selection bias very clear in his Foreword- assuming you have a chance to read his Foreword first...which you wouldn't if you bought the book here. So, thus my review.
Many of the crime stories here are also quite brutal and violent. Be warned.
There are some stories I liked:
"The Case of Colonel Warburton's Madness" a quite good entry into the Holmes pastiche sub-genre. I suggest Holmes fans take a look at Lyndsay Faye's other writings.
"A Jury of His Peers" is an excellent historical mystery, set in the period right after Texas Independence.
"An Early Christmas" is a good solid Police Procedural.
"Killing Time" is not a mystery in my opinion, but a good solid action thriller.
Kurt Vonnegut also comes up with a very well written historical piece, set during Prohibition. Not really a Mystery, but still enjoyable.
So, there are some gems here.
Now, I know many readers enjoy crime fiction, and the Editor did give warning, so I am giving this ***. You may well enjoy this a lot more than I did, but be warned about what this collection is... and is not.
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
Three, however, stand out. Jay Brandon's `A Jury of His Peers,' based on a historical incident, recounts the return of lawyers, who had been kidnapped and held for ransom by Santa Ana's army, to San Antonio. When after a year or more away from their practices and loved ones, the lawyers return to reclaim what they left behind, it is no surprise that violence erupts.
Phyllis Cohen's `Designer Justice' also deals with the effects of violence; it depicts a violent crime and its unexpected aftermath.
And `Killing Time' by Jon Land introduces Mr. Beechum, middle school language arts teacher extraordinary, who is not only able to interest his charges in fiction, he is also able to protect them from the unforeseen.
While no one reader will necessarily equally enjoy all the stories, there is enough variety to appeal to those who enjoy the genre. And the short story format is well suited to busy lifestyles.
The bottom line: Five stars.
As several reviewers have noted, there are very few if any classic mysteries in the 2010 edition edited by Lee Child. Personally, I counted only one: Lyndsay Faye's "The Case of Colonel Warburton's Madness," yet another story that rescues Sherlock Holmes from the roiling of the Reichenbach Falls. The next closest is probably Doug Allyn's "An Early Christmas," though it would more properly be considered a police procedural. Albert Tucher's "Bismarck Rules" and Mike Wiecek's "The Shipbreaker" features protagonists in trouble who are forced to do some impromptu sleuthing of their own, but Holmes and Watson they aren't.
In any case, almost all of the 20 stories in this volume are more properly considered thrillers than mysteries. All are entertaining, though not all are distinguished. Jon Land's "Killing Time," Chris Muessig's "Bias" and Phillip Margolin's "The House on Pine Terrace" struck me as competent pulp, no more (though Margolin plants some intriguing story twists via his none-too-reliable narrator). One story really stretched the definition of "mystery" to the limit: Lynda Leidiger's "Tell Me," very fine per se but really an Alice Munro-style character study despite its violent subtext.
My favorite stories in the book are Mary Stewart Atwell's "Maynard" and Gary Alexander's "Charlie and the Pirates," both exemplary in conveying the maximum amount of thrills and character revelation in the fewest possible words. I had to reread "Maynard" several times to truly get what was going on in the disordered mind of its narrator, but I was glad I did. Matt Bell's "Dredge" is one of the most brilliant and moving accounts of a damaged personality that I've ever read, but so sad, disturbing and gruesome that I recommend it only to readers with cast-iron stomachs. Several stories elevate themselves from pulp status either through finely observed place and characters (Dennis Lehane's "Animal Rescue") or the sheer audacity of their storytelling (Gar Anthony Haywood's "The First Rule Is" and the late Phyllis Cohen's "Designer Justice"). From beyond the grave, Kurt Vonnegut gives us a special treat in "Ed Luby's Key Club"--purest pulp, but of a peculiarly elevated kind unique to Vonnegut. Anyone who liked "Harrison Bergeron" or "Welcome to the Monkey House" will like this.
In all, this is an uneven but solid collection that will generally satisfy all but the pickiest readers.
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