There is an interesting conundrum in the literary field of the mystery genre these days. Specifically, the number of mystery writers capable of turning out a good, tightly written, short mystery seems to be increasing exponentially, while at the same time, there appears to be a shrinking field of areas where such authors can present their work. As a (partial) answer to this, The Mystery Writers of America have begun publishing anthologies of original short mystery and detective fiction, with a "name" editor, if you will, as an additional draw. My only objection to this concept is that they are not published nearly often enough, for they are really very, very good.
The first of these was GUILTY AS CHARGED, edited by Scott "Presumed Innocent" Turow, who, in spite of whatever commercial difficulties he has had recently, demonstrated that if he ever decides to get out of the publishing game he would make an excellent editor for anthologies such as these. The latest volume in the series, DIAGNOSIS DEAD, is edited by Jonathan Kellerman, who maintains the high standards of selection established by his predecessor.
Each of the stories contains one or more elements of what should be included in a work of mystery or detective fiction. In Jeremiah Healy's "Hero," for example, Healy wastes no time establishing that his protagonist is going to get used --- badly. The question, of course, which will have the reader racing through the story, is "how." It is worth the race to get the answer.
"Natural Death, Inc.," by the always welcome Max Allan Collins, mixes history with fiction in his account of insurance, murder and Eliot Ness in Cleveland, Ohio --- and kudos to Mr. Collins for knowing what "The Angles" was.
Like your stories with a chill to them? Try "Show Me The Bones" by Carolyn Wheat, about the search on the edge of a desert for a missing child; you know how this story is going to end, and you are right --- but you'll still be surprised --- and horrified. On the other hand, it is difficult to resist standing up and cheering the ending of the Marilyn Wallace tale, "The Oath," in which a physician takes Hippocrates' admonition to it's natural conclusion.
Similarly, Dr. Kellerman's inclusion here of his own story, "Therapy," deals with a counselor who understands that occasionally talking things out simply is not enough. Faye Kellerman is also included here with "The Back Page," a story about a reporter's mysterious scoops --- and his even more mysterious source. Some may quarrel with Kellerman's inclusion of stories by himself and his spouse. Such a complaint is a tempest in a teapot on both counts. Both stories belong here regardless of editorship, from whatever standpoint --- quality, topic --- one would choose to assign.
I have no idea who originally conceived of this irregular series of mystery anthologies, but whoever did is not being paid enough. This series is an excellent idea, which hopefully will be continued with some increasing frequency and with its present rotation of editors. Given the relatively few magazines devoted to the mystery genre, this series will hopefully encourage more writers to put their short story thinking caps on with the hope of publishing an original submission. I, for one, will be waiting.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 1, 1999