Author: Otto Penzler (series editor), Harlan Coben (editor)
Type: Fiction, short stories
I read it: May 2012
This book goes down as the first one I ever read on a Kindle. Can’t pass up a $0.99 deal, you know? I have read few mysteries in my time, and this collection was a good snapshot of the modern take on the genre. In the foreword, Otto Penzler describes a “mystery” as not necessarily a detective story, but “any short work of fiction in which a crime, or the threat of a crime, is central to the theme or the plot.” This opens up the possibilities in exciting ways, and most of the stories could fit elsewhere into quality fiction collections, whether defined as “mystery” or not.
Eric Barnes’ “Something Pretty, Something Beautiful” is a fantastic coming-of-age story. “Clean Slate” by Lawrence Block is a sleek, unsettling character study of a modern woman and her dark needs. To mix things up, Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin combine talents to take us back to the dustbowl era with “What His Hands Had Been Waiting For.” Some of the selections are completely forgettable, so much so that I cannot recall which they are, reviewing the book at this late date. Those I would categorize as the so-much-gun-and-tough-talk-action-it’s-boring variety. But as a counterpoint, the book delivers a nicely subversive offering with Chris F. Holm’s “The Hitter.” At the beginning I did not buy that someone wrapped up in a deep hitman role would put down a confession in the first person, but the story winds itself tighter and tighter and by the end the entire execution makes sense. It is one of the longest stories, and one of the best.
There are others here that peek above or duck below the median, and overall I was satisfied. Would I seek out another Best American Mystery Stories? Probably not. But I would hope that some of the better ones would be able to shuffle up out of the genre and into a Best American Short Stories collection.