Saturday, January 17, 2009

Book Review: The Best American Mystery Stories 2008, edited by George Pelecanos

I love to read, but since I’ve started working in publishing my spare time is usually used on reading for work. I consciously try to carve out some time on the weekends to read other things so I can remind myself of what else is out there, and to make sure that my internal calibration of good writing doesn’t decrease (as it tends to when the majority of what I read is unpublished work from a wide variety of abilities). So when I get a chance to read something else, I want to really enjoy it.

The Best American Mystery Stories 2008 is a collection of short stories given to me by Food Guy for Christmas. I enjoy mysteries and spent a few months working through the library’s Agatha Christie series, but I’m always looking for new authors, and I by no means only like mysteries. It’s one of the many genres I enjoy.

My primary problem with this collection is that it really didn’t feel like I was reading mysteries. There were some great stories in here—I’ll find out if Rupert Holmes has published anything else after reading The Monks of the Abbey Victoria, and I got chills from Child’s Play before I saw that I already like the author of that story, Alice Munro. The book says mysteries on the front, but there is a quote from Pelecanos prominently featured on the back that says, “Though there are twists and surprises to be discovered, none of these stories are puzzles, locked-room mysteries, or private detective tales.” (They accurately predicted that people would feel a bit puzzled after reading these stories if there wasn’t a warning.)

I guess I missed the feeling of an actual mystery here, for though the stories were by and large interesting to me, I did not feel like I’d discovered new mystery writers, just writers in general. Which is okay, but not what I was expecting and I guess hoping for despite the disclaimer. If there’s no mystery, just a well-written story, why put it in the “Mystery” pile at all?

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