Best American Mystery Stories – 2015
Edited by James Patterson
I’m in short story mode. Been that way for a year or so. I love to read novels, of course. The short story is arguably harder. You have only a few thousand words, while a novel ten times that. You have to be succinct and to the point. The mood has to be established briefly, and be believable and consistent. The climax needs to be reached satisfactorily and convincingly.
As a reader, my genre is science fiction. I have a couple of sub-genres, too. Horror, thriller, mystery. That’s why I picked this one up. Twenty stories, some by names you’d know if you are a fan of the genres. Lee Child, Michael Connolly. Some names you might not know. Anyway, I didn’t. The forward broadens the definition of mystery, stating that pure deduction may be the most difficult mystery stories to write, and it’s hard to be original.
“The working definition of a mystery story for this series is any work of fiction in which a crime, or the threat of a crime, is central to the theme or the plot.”
That’s a hard way to start a collection of “MYSTERY” short stories. As a friend of mine recently said, while paraphrasing P.D. James, “if you are a poet, and you make the deliberate decision to write a sonnet, you should then actually follow the rules of the form. Don’t whinge about how you can’t express yourself in fourteen lines.”
Of course, the forward states this clearly, and apparently has for a very long time, since this is not the first installment. I have since bought this collection from the years 2010 to 2014 (so, you can imagine, I liked it well enough). It is a collection not so much of mysteries (though there are occasional actual mysteries), as it is a collection of crime stories. OK, got it.
This didn’t diminish my enjoyment. If you read something by James Patterson, you should know that you’re reading a mainstream thriller. The fact that something edited by James Patterson is mostly filled with thrillers should not itself be a mystery. I enjoyed most of the stories thoroughly, some more than others.
Among the better stories:
The Snow Angel, by Doug Allen – A police procedural, not a whodunnit. We find out more about the detective as a person than we do about the crime or the criminal.
Rosalee Carrasco by Tomiko Breland- A surprisingly good story about a child who is bullied at school, those that bully her, and how it will or will not effect them now or in future.
Wet With Rain by Lee Child- An espionage story I didn’t see coming.
Shared Room on Union by Stephen Heighton- Not really a mystery, or even much of a crime story. No police, no chase, only a relationship between two people in a tough situation.
The Shot by Eric Rutter- An interesting structure, a police officer discusses an incident with the police shrink. We drop in and out of first and third person. The protagonist is deeply flawed and yet redeemed.
Others I thought were perfectly serviceable, though not inspiring. None of them were demonstrably bad. And, as I mentioned before, it was reason enough for me to buy five others in the series.