I have recurring dreams where I'm on a rock or a raft or some sort of lifesaver in the middle of raging rapids and objects are floating by me. For some reason I feel duty bound in my dreams to grab each of the objects, like I'm a character in a video game or something. I think I'm grabbing everything, but it gradually hits me that I'm not. I usually wake up at the point where I've grabbed and missed for something I really, really need. My dream, of course, is a metaphor for books or authors I miss during the year.
It's impossible to keep up with everything that's going on in the world of literature. Even if you want to limit yourself to a particular genre, something good is going to get by you. Time is a problem, distribution is another and some time word of mouth doesn't reach its intended target. That's why those "Year's Best" anthologies are required reading, particularly in the mystery genre. There's no way to keep up with everything and, even if the market for short stories is shrinking, there are enough of them --- and they are hard enough to find --- to make it virtually impossible to keep up with all of them.
A particular favorite mystery favorite of mine is THE WORLD'S FINEST MYSTERY AND CRIME STORIES. It's only up to its third annual edition, but is already staking out a claim in the genre as being indispensable. Editorial chores are handled by Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg, both of whom are legends in the anthology arena. Between the two of them they burrow into every cranny of the genre and come away with treasures.
THE WORLD'S FINEST is not merely a collection of short mystery and crime fiction, though it would be worth the price of admission on that basis alone. There are a number of essays included, dealing with The Year 2001 in Mystery and Crime fiction, a Yearbook, the state of the art in Canada, Great Britain, Australia, Germany and Fandom. There's also a list of the ten best novels that is quite interesting, both for what is included (TOTAL RECALL by Sarah Petretsky) and what is not (what happened to THE JUDGEMENT by D.W. Buffa?). The list of course is, at least to some extent, subjective and part of the fun of it is finding one (or two or three) books you missed. And, when you're done having fun with all of that, there are the stories.
One of the joys of this anthology is finding names you know and love, while finding others you've never heard of. In the former category, there is Ed McBain with "Activity on the Flood Plain" which, on the surface, doesn't appear to belong in this collection at all. What begins as a story of a beleaguered artist dealing with a nattering nabob on a planning and zoning board takes a left turn near the conclusion. And, yeah, it definitely belongs in this volume. Jeffrey Deaver is included as well, with "Beautiful." This marks the first time I have ever been able to guess the conclusion of a Deaver work and it did not diminish my enjoyment of the story, which concerns a woman who finds an effective, if drastic way, of dealing with a stalker. Lawrence Block is represented by a thoughtful piece entitled "Speaking of Greed," a classic tale of a card game held among a very, very diverse group of gentlemen. There are also great, great stories by such well-known figures as Ruth Rendall, Max Allan Collins, Donald Westlake and Joyce Carol Oates, who is quietly demonstrating a versatility that has been under-appreciated as she demonstrates in "Tell Me You Forgive Me."
But what about the unknowns? Well, there are plenty to talk about, but I'll limit discussion to one who was a new face, at least to me. Dick Lochte is not an unknown, but I was totally unfamiliar with his work until encountering him with "In The City of Angels." Reprinted from FLESH AND BLOOD, an under-appreciated anthology of erotic mystery stories edited by Max Collins and Jeff Gelb, "In the City of Angels" combines equal parts of lust, greed and danger to create an atmospheric, contemporary Los Angeles, written the way Chandler would have if he'd have been born in the 1970s. It is the last story in THE WORLD'S FINEST and for good reason: it would have been a tough one for anyone to follow.
THE WORLD'S FINEST MYSTERY AND CRIME STORIES: Third Annual Collection is an absolute must for both the seasoned and casual reader of crime fiction. Leave plenty of time to revisit your favorite authors and to find some new ones. Very highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 18, 2002