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Thursday, March 09, 2017

The Best American Mystery Stories 2015

Otto Penzler, in the 2015 edition of The Best American Mystery Stories, writes in the foreword about something that I've mentioned in the write-ups on the last few of these books. "The psychology of crime has become the dominant form of mystery fiction in recent years, while the classic detective tale of observation and deduction has faded further into the background," and "The working definition of a mystery story for this series is any work of fiction in which a crime, or the threat of a crime, is central to the theme or the plot." My answer to this that the series title should be changed to Crime Stories, but I suppose that doesn't have the same sense of, well, mystery.

But there is a story that has a bit of mystery to it, and that's "The Adventure of the Laughing Fisherman," by Jeffery Deaver, about a young man obsessed by Sherlock Holmes stories. This is not a pastiche, but more of an homage, with a very clever twist. He also correctly notes, "Paul owned all of the various filmed versions of the Holmes adventures, though he believed the old Grenada version with Jeremy Brett was the only one that got it right."

In the area of inner city crime, there's "Apocrypha," by Richard Lange, which states, "The freaks come out at night, and the farther east you go, the worse it gets. Sidewalk shitters living in cardboard boxes, ghosts who eat out of garbage cans, a blind man showing his dick on the corner. I keep my gaze forward, my hands balled into fists. Walking hard, we used to call it."

Some stories are from the perpetrators point of view, or at least of a family member who sees what happens. These include the very fine "A Man Looking for Trouble," which has a great opening paragraph (something of a must for crime stories), "My uncle was a man named Bill Jordan, and in 1972, when I was sixteen, he came home from Vietnam, rented a small box house on the corner of South and Christy, and went to work on a section gang with the B & O Railroad. If not for my mother and her romance with our neighbor, Harold Timms, perhaps my uncle would have lived a quiet and unremarkable life, but of course that’s something we’ll never know." "Cowboy Justice," by Andrew D. Bourelle, is a blood-soaked story about a couple of brothers from Montana in Reno to avenge their brother's death at the hand of some meth dealers. And "A Bottle of Scotch and a Buck Knife", by Scott Grand, is another story about justice being dealt out without benefit of the court system.

There are stories about police. "The Snow Angel," by Doug Allyn, concerns a cop investigating the death of a young girl in a cold Michigan winter. "The Shot," by Eric Rutter, shows us a police sniper who has lost his nerve. And "Red Eye" teams up Harry Bosch and Patrick Kenzie, the characters of Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane, respectively.

A few stories have exotic locations. "Staircase to the Moon" by Theresa E. Lehr, is about Japanese-Australian pearl divers. "A Kidnapping in Koulev-ville," by Kyle Minor, is set in Haiti. "Wet Rain," by Lee Child, is set in Dublin.

I'm not sure what my favorite story is, but the one that sticks with me the most is "Many Dogs Have Died Here," by James Mathews. It's about a loner, a vet living on a quiet cul-de-sac, whose life is turned upside down by a war widow. She introduces herself to the neighbors by slashing their tires. It's a nightmare story, really, that seems very true to life, and may have you questioning just what you'd do in the same situation.

This collection was edited by James Patterson, one of the most successful authors in the world, whose ubiquity is legendary. The choices here are solid, but I sure do miss a good whodunit.

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