Houghton Mifflin's fine, often amazing lineup of annual Best American anthologies has always offered revealing reading, allowing people to entertain themselves while discovering good new writers. But until now, for a hardcore mystery buff to read one of the many popular anthologies meant wading through a cloying, constricting theme, usually involving vague sex, the British, or—the bane of the entire genre—mystery-solving cats. Exceptions are rare, but now fans are virtually guaranteed one good collection a year. Otto Penzler, owner of The Mysterious Bookstore and The Mysterious Press in New York City—and one of the most important figures in American crime fiction—has been chosen as series editor, and no other choice would have made sense. This first book in the series was edited by Robert B. Parker, prolific author of the tough-guy Spenser mysteries and spiritual heir of Mike Hammer. Together, Penzler and Parker managed to agree on 20 examples of the state of the genre, from the ever-present Elmore Leonard to fan favorite Jonathan Kellerman to the inescapable Joyce Carol Oates, who weighs in with a well-crafted story of death and truth within a family. And James Crumley, who may be one of America's best writers regardless of category, has an exquisite piece on failure here—it's sudden, brutal, and terrifying. Without a doubt, The Best American Mystery Stories 1997 is the beginning of a great annual phenomenon, not just for fans, but for readers in general.

Advertisement