It is probably a
truism that the way to gauge the strength of the science fiction,
horror and mystery genres is to check out the multiple annual "Best
Of" anthologies that are spawned from each of them. If a particular
genre's anthologies seem to contain pretty much the same stories,
there probably isn't much depth to the genre that particular year.
If, however, different editors have made different selections and
it is hard to pick winners from among the different anthologies,
then the genre in all probability has had a strong year.
THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2000 is the latest annual
anthology published in what has, to the benefit of all, become a
regular event. The series, which features a rotating editor under
the guiding hand of series editor Otto Penzler, has become a
perennial favorite. It does have some competition this year from
other anthologies. Any serious lover of fiction from any genre,
however, should consider purchasing this volume with the other
mystery anthologies for 2000, as they complement rather than
compete with each other. And if we use my humble standard, they
demonstrate that the mystery genre is very strong, indeed.
I have developed a bad habit, which I do not recommend to anyone.
If an anthology has a Jeffery Deaver story in it, I turn to it and
read it immediately. The one featured here is "Triangle." It's all
about a...relationship, but it's not what you might think at first.
Or second or third, either. And I swear to you I had it all figured
out. I really did, based on my extensive reading of Deaver's novels
and short stories. And I was wrong, as wrong as wrong could be, not
even in the right church wrong! And the story was
There is also a short little tale in here by Shel Silverstein. Yes,
Shel Silverstein, the late lamented one, himself. The author
of children's books for adults, like THE GIVING TREE, and the
lyricist who wrote many of Dr. Hook's songs --- that Shel
Silverstein. And who would have dreamed that he had this story in
him, this folksy yet sophisticated account of a courtroom
proceeding where justice is done. Tom Franklin, whose brilliant
"Poachers" was all over the place last year, is back with the
almost as brilliant "Grit," a darkly funny, or maybe funnily dark,
little tale about the silent takeover of a factory.
Where anthologies of this sort really prove their worth, however,
is with regard to their ability to introduce readers to authors who
are new to them. My favorite this year in this category is my
paisano, Robert Girardi, with "The Defenestration of Aba
Sid." Girardi's protagonist is Martin Wexler, a public defender
who, for whatever reason, is a really lousy lawyer; and who is
plucked from the legal pool to defend a Russian immigrant accused
of murder. Girardi is brilliant --- this story was so good that I
could hardly wait to finish it so that I could go hunt up every
word he's ever written. Girardi juggles any number of chainsaws in
the air in this one. We're wondering if the accused did it; is
Wexler going to get him off; should he get him off; how is he going
to get him off; and why was Wexler picked as counsel when he is a
base incompetent. Or is he? Girardi in this novelette plumbs depths
that other legal thriller authors never come close to in 500 plus
pages. His story is worth the price of admission alone.
THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2000 should be on your bookshelf
now, if it isn't already. Don't put it on your Christmas list;
that's too long to have to wait. Buy it for yourself so that you
can start reading it immediately. You'll be impressed by the
strength of the genre.
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Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011