Monday, March 5, 2012

The Best American Mystery Short Stories, Part 2

[This is a continuation of another blog you can read here.  (You'll excuse me if I repeat the disclaimer here.  If you've already read the aforementioned post, you'll know the purpose, so you can just skip to the stories and comments below.)] 

photo: cover of the book from its Amazon page

A few comments about the stories I've read so far in The Best Mystery Short Stories--1998 (edited by Sue Grafton).  Though of course the collection is old, stories are stories, and good writing is timeless.  You couldn't do much better, for example, than some of Chekhov's short stories; writers like Alice Munro and others are still obviously indebted to him.  The hope here is that you'll check out the other works of the writers positively mentioned below.  Most of them are still pounding the keys...

The Old Spies Club, by Edward D. Hoch

Very agreeable and crisp writing from a pro.  If you like the genre, you'll recognize the name.  In this one, a retired spy joins a club for, well, retired spies.  (You may be surprised as I was that they'd be that open about such a thing.)  The mystery is that there's apparently a double-agent amongst them, and this person doesn't want some items sold at a public auction by a retired (literally and euphemistically) spy who'd written a memoir and who, to a reporter, threatened to name names in another work.  But then he died, under normal circumstances, but the worry is that he'd hidden incriminating evidence in one of his belongings up for auction.  You could make a novella out of this, but Hoch succinctly wraps it up in a very short short story, and at the end, you'll slap yourself for not putting the clues together and realizing who the agent was.  The clues are not the insufferable type that no one in his right mind would ever think of.  An observant reader could reasonably put it together.  Memorable for its succinctness and professional writing--and the clues and ending were welcome surprises.  This one's a pleasant and minor keeper.

Beyond Dog, by Pat Jordan

Good writing and explosive (literally) ending still don't save this one from being ho-hum okay.  It's well-done, but it didn't do it for me like other well-done ones in the collection have.  The sexy older woman is the most interesting character; the dog of the title didn't work for me like the frisbee-catching one did in the first story, mentioned in the other blog entry.  This one's more of a plot device, and otherwise interesting only for how the aforementioned women exalts him, and lets him go where dogs aren't allowed to, like on a beach or in a taxi.

Find Miriam, by Stuart Kaminsky

Very good story, wrapped up a little too quickly for my taste, and it ends with a bit of a silent thud.  The mystery turns out to be no mystery, to the reader and to the characters.  The characters themselves are just on the page, though they're agreeable, likeable and believable enough.  I wouldn't be surprised to find that the narrator has appeared in print before.  In fact, I remember the author's name from somewhere.  Nothing really surprising here, or memorable, and the author seems to have felt the same way about it.  Even the title indicates this, as the narrator is hired to---.

Secrets, by Janice Law

Wow!  Holy cow, this was a superior story with superior writing.  The best of the bunch so far; not close.  The writing was so good--as was the story, but the plot isn't something you haven't seen before--that I now want to Google this writer and see what else she's written.  Writing like this makes me want to write something like this, which, I think, is one of the benchmarks of good writing.  This story was so good, the writing of such high quality, that I'm not even going to summarize the work here, like I have for everything else.  I want you to go get a copy of this (You know where you can get one for a penny, though I'm loathe to say this, since I wouldn't want anyone to get any of my future books for that price.) and read this yourself.  Fascinating way to handle this story, and again the writing is exquisite.  I'm going to Google and Wikipedia the author right now...


  1. I came across the latest installment (2011) of these short story collections while book shopping yesterday. I was pleased to note it was edited by one of my favorite mystery authors Harlen Coben. But alas, I cannot find this book unless it's Amazon. Yes sadly for one penny. Your review has peaked my curiosity though!

    1. I have the Coben one, too, of course. I call dibs on blogging about that one! I've met Harlan Coben twice. Nice guy, very tall and very bald, and very built. Women LOVE him. He told me he writes everywhere BUT in an office; at coffee places, in parks, in other rooms of the house. Everywhere.

      Glad my review has inspired you to read these mystery anthologies!

    2. Really! That's quite impressive. Coben's novel "Tell No One" is such a treasure. That book kept me up 'til 3 am on most nights. I wouldn't say I'm fanatical him the way I am with Stephen King, but I have been very satisfied with his books on the whole. Interesting advice he gave you. I vote for writing in parks. Blog away!

    3. I have to say that "Tell No One" did not do it for me. It was readable enough, but lacked the intensity and tension I look for in such books. And I also have to admit that I haven't read anything else by him, I think; I do have quite a few more of his, of course, so I'm willing to give another one a go.

  2. I've read about five of his novels. The disconcerting issue with his work is each book is inflicted with the same formula every single time. The plot gets too convoluted and outrageous to remain believable. As much as I enjoyed "Tell No One", it suffered from some contrivances I couldn't overlook. Still it kept me interested from start to finish. I'd recommend his other novel: "Just One Look".

  3. I'll take a look at it, but I couldn't agree with you more: All of his books tend to blend in after awhile. The Bolitar novels did that after awhile, and I had to stop reading them. Jonathan Kellerman's books do that now, too, though there's still something high-quality about the mystery and grisliness that keeps me reading them.