Best American Mystery Stories 2010
Edited by Lee Child, Atlantic Books
The fourteenth of these annual collections of short stories first published in the previous calendar year arrived courtesy of the publisher, Corvus (Atlantic). Although I am not usually a consumer of the short-story format, I had just read a novel that upset me so much that I needed an antidote before embarking on another one, so a few short stories seemed to be just the ticket.
Each year, Otto Penzler reads all the submitted entries (more than 1,000 for this collection) – the rules are explained in his series forward. He makes a shortlist of 50 and a guest editor (this year the ubiquitous Lee Child) makes the final choice of 20. I had read four of the authors in the 2010 book before: Dennis Lehane, Jay Brandon, Kurt Vonnegut and Philip Margolin. All provide well-observed, twisty tales that I enjoyed reading. Margolin’s, in particular, manages to be both funny and sharp. Of the authors new to me, I liked the entries by Doug Allyn and Phylis Cohen – but there are plenty of others to attract your interest, ranging across place and time.
I am never sure how to review a short story because even a sentence can give away too much of the plot for a short-form piece. However, real-estate brokers, barmen, female vice cops, jewellery thieves and lawyers in the wild west all feature in a well-put-together set of stories.
At the end of the book there is a brief biography of each author, together with a short paragraph about how he or she came to write the story in the collection. I’m not sure for how long many of these will stick in my memory, but dipping in and out of this book was a pleasant experience, and on occasion a haunting one.