Best American Mystery Stories of the Century

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9780618012671: Best American Mystery Stories of the Century

In THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES OF THE CENTURY, best-selling author Tony Hillerman and mystery expert Otto Penzler present an unparalleled treasury of American suspense fiction that every fan will cherish. Offering the finest examples from all reaches of the genre, this collection charts the mystery's eminent history from the turn-of-the-century puzzles of Futrelle, to the seminal pulp fiction of Hammett and Chandler, to the mystery story's rise to legitimacy in the popular mind, a trend that has benefited masterly writers like Westlake, Hunter, and Grafton. Nowhere else can readers find a more thorough, more engaging, more essential distillation of American crime fiction.

Penzler, BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES series editor, and Hillerman, whose Leaphorn/Chee novels have won him multiple Edgar Awards and millions of devotees, winnowed this select group out of a thousand stories, drawing on sources as diverse as ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE and ESQUIRE, COLLIER'S and THE NEW YORKER. Giants of the genre abound -- Raymond Chandler, Stephen King, Dashiell Hammett, Lawrence Block, Ellery Queen, Sara Paretsky, and others -- but the editors also unearthed gems by luminaries rarely found in suspense anthologies: William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Damon Runyon, Harlan Ellison, James Thurber, and Joyce Carol Oates. Mystery buffs and newcomers alike will delight in the thrilling stories and top-notch writing of a hundred years' worth of the finest suspense, crime, and mystery writing.

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Review:

Anthologies are tricky things for editors: to select a story for inclusion is to make oneself a target for readers who wonder hotly why X or Y or Z wasn't chosen. And to be so brash as to deem an anthology the best anything of the century practically invites scorn and condemnation. But with The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, Tony Hillerman, Edgar-winning author, and Otto Penzler, founder of the Mysterious Press, step boldly to the firing line with a salvo of 55 stories that are so devious and absorbing, challenging and rewarding that most readers will hold their fire.

The collection stretches from O. Henry's 1903 tale of a bank robber who abandons his trade ("A Retrieved Reformation") to Dennis Lehane's unsettling sketch of a post-Gothic southern town and its canine conundrum ("Running Out of Dog," 1999), and brings together authors who at first seem uneasy bedfellows. William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway jostle for space with Donald Westlake and Stephen Greenleaf; Willa Cather and Flannery O'Conner stare combatively at Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton. But as one reads along, these potentially tense alliances relax: the boundaries between "modern" and "classic," "pulp" and "literature" evanesce, leaving instead a shimmering web of serendipitous affiliations: O. Henry and Stephen King nod amiably to one another, united by the skill of their devious narrative twists.

Hillerman and Penzler's selections reflect a century-long shift in mystery fiction from an emphasis on an exterior landscape--replete with the tangible artifacts of who, what, where, when, how, why--to a growing interest in the geography of interiority. This landscape thrives on the amorphousness of its own features. In Tom Franklin's "Poachers," for example, the puzzle hardly matters at all: real people, and their endlessly convoluted relationships, do. Three orphaned brothers who live as predators in the swamps of the Gulf Coast, the old widower who loves them, the sheriff who pities them all--who kills two of the boys and blinds a third? We never really know. In any case, Franklin's infinitely shaded nuances of silence and speech matter far more than the violence of the crime itself.

And for those readers who, when all is read and done, still insist that they could have done a much better job of judging, Penzler's disarming editorial shrug serves to remind that any anthology should be approached with equanimity, a touch of resignation, and not a little humor: "There are no scientific instruments that can tell a reader which of Harlan Ellison's two Edgar-winning short stories is better. It is a coin toss, and it can't be anything else. Let's just live with it." Happily, The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century is an extraordinarily rewarding companion. --Kelly Flynn

About the Author:

OTTO PENZLER is a renowned mystery editor, publisher, columnist, and owner of New York's The Mysterious Bookshop, the oldest and largest bookstores solely dedicated to mystery fiction. He  has edited more than fifty crime-fiction anthologies.

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