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The Best American Mystery Stories 2009

edited by Jeffrey Deaver and Otto Penzler

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating


The Best American Mystery Stories 2009
© Houghton Mifflin
Houghton Mifflin, October 2009

The twenty stories in The Best American Mystery Stories 2009 are wide-ranging in their styles and themes, and - much like The Best American Mystery Stories 2008 - are short stories first, mysteries second. In fact, solid as they are as stories, many aren't all that mysterious, choosing instead to take the reader along on the ride. The 2009 anthology also features several authors from collections past, including James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, Chuck Hogan, Alice Munro, and Joyce Carol Oates.

In the introduction, guest editor Jeffrey Deaver self-reflexively chides himself for noting how difficult it is to narrow the pool of candidates down to only twenty, declaring that it simply means the genre of short fiction "is thriving as never before, even if, as of this writing, the rest of the world is in meltdown." Even with his acknowledgment of tough economic times, his occasionally glib tone is a more welcome lead-in to the book than the foreword by series editor Otto Penzler. Penzler is notably accomplished in the mystery publishing arena, but his piece here bemoaning changes in the book world seems out of place.
If there is any running theme in this collection, it is perhaps the interesting ways characters react to a variety of adverse situations. For instance, the celebrity journalist in Tom Bissell's "My Interview with the Avenger" finds himself wrestling with a host of emotional and intellectual questions after he nets a meeting with an anonymous New York City vigilante. And Alafair Burke's police procedural "Winning" features a victim of a horrific crime who comes to terms with it in a most unusual way.

While many of the stories opt for fast-moving, sometimes jarring plot structures, a few of the book's highlights are of the subtler type."Beanball," by Ron Carlson, is one of the longer stories of the lot, which allows it room to unfold more gradually. Following a baseball scout whose own pro career was cut short, a world of intrigue opens up around the U.S. major leagues and Central American prospects.
Mixing a little political history with fiction is Kristine Kathryn Rusch in her story "G-Men," including J. Edgar Hoover and Robert Kennedy as key characters. The tale is equal parts noir and behind-the-scenes government secrecy.

In "Bola de la Fortuna," by Jonathan Tel, the main character is aptly described by Deaver as "a poster boy for being in the wrong place at the wrong time." Spanning several years, the story is quiet in its telling, with the anger of injustice simmering underneath.

While not all the stories deliver quite the emotional impact the introduction promises, The Best American Mystery Stories 2009 is another fine collection in the series that should appeal to short story fans who like a little crime in their fiction.
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