10 November 2020

The Best American Mystery Stories

November 3, 2020, was the official release date for The Best American Mystery Stories 2020, the last edition with Otto Penzler as series editor. Beginning next year, Steph Cha will be the series editor of the renamed The Best American Mystery & Suspense, and Otto Penzler will helm The Mysterious Bookshop Presents: The Best Mystery Stories of the Year.

My relationship with The Best American Mystery Stories began with the 1998 edition—the second—and I read it and every subsequent edition upon release. A few years ago I found a used copy of the 1997 edition, so I’ve now read every edition save for the current one, which, as I write this, has yet to arrive.

Through email, John Floyd and I recently shared some thoughts about those early editions of BAMS. We discussed how we read in them the work of our literary heroes, imagining what it must be like to have one’s work selected as among the year’s best, and only dreaming of our own work someday being included.

To say that BAMS has since made our dreams come true is an understatement. Including the current edition, John has had three stories included in The Best American Mystery Stories (2015, 2018, and 2020) and another five listed among the “Other Distinguished Stories” of the year (2000, 2010, 2012, 2016, and 2017).

The Best American Mystery Stories has also been good to me, with one story included in 2018 and three listed among the “Other Distinguished Stories” of the year in 2005, 2019, and 2020. It has also been good to me as an editor: The 2020 edition includes a story first published in an anthology I edited, and four stories from anthologies I edited have been listed among the “Other Distinguished Stories” of the year (two stories in 2002, and one each in 2005 and 2020).


The science fiction/fantasy/horror genres are awash with annual best-of-year compilations, but for the past several years BAMS has been the mystery genre’s only best-of-year anthology, and some writers have questioned whether we can support more than one.

I think we can because we have in the past.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch and John Helfers edited The Year’s Best Crime and Mystery Stories 2016, and, beginning in 2000, Ed Gorman (alone at first but later with Martin Greenberg) edited twelve editions of an annual best-of series, originally as The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories but with later editions under various titles. (One of John’s stories was named an Honorable Mention in the 2001 edition and a story from an anthology I edited was named an Honorable Mention in the 2002 edition.)

Other best-of-year compilations pre-date these, including The Year’s Best Mystery and Suspense Stories series edited by Edward D. Hoch 1982-1995, and Best Detective Stories aka Best Detective Stories of the Year, edited, at various times, by David C. Cooke, Ronald Knox, Brett Halliday, Anthony Boucher, Allen J. Hubin, and Edward D. Hoch.

So the mystery genre can clearly support two annual best-of-year collections, and maybe the new writers of today will read them and have the same dreams John and I had. With any luck, twenty years from now a few of today’s new writers will share with readers how they saw their dreams come true when they had their work recognized in one of the annual best-of-year anthologies.

Publishing has been good to me the past month:

“Woodstock” was published in the November/December issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

Bicycles” was published in the October 21 issue of Pulp Modern Flash.

“Bet Me” was published in the second issue of Hoosier Noir.

Today is the official release date for Peace, Love, and Crime (Untreed Reads), edited by Sandra Murphy, which contains my story “Jimmy’s Jukebox.”

And “The Town Where Money Grew on Trees” (Tough, November 5, 2019) was named one of the “Other Distinguished Stories” in The Best American Mystery Stories 2020.


  1. Congratulations on your many recent stories!

  2. Michael -- Thank you for the kind words, and congratulations on your recent successes!

    I just received my copy of the 2020 BAMS--I look forward to reading all the stories.

  3. Always great to see your successes, Michael!

  4. Michael, you are a prime example of creativity and hard work paying off in the writing game.

  5. Congratulations to both you and John. My copy of BAMS arrived Saturday. I know several of the other writers in it, too, of course. What's the most exciting to me is discovering work by people I've never encountered before. More to explore.

  6. The Hoch MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE was simply the BEST DETECTIVE series Hoch had inherited under a better title. And Martin Greenberg was simply uncredited in the first Gorman volumes, but played essentially the same role throughout. (Things got a bit hairy at the end, as when one of the last volumes included Patricia Abbott's name and story selection on the cover but managed to completely omit them in the actual contents.)

    And, briefly crime fiction had three wide-spectrum BOTY annuals (leaving aside Sisters in Crime and other often regular offers), with the iBooks MYSTERY: THE BEST OF 2001 and 2002 volumes edited by Jon Breen, along with the Gorman/Greengerg and Penzler BAMS volumes in those years. (And there was also briefly the long-stories supplemental volume from Gorman and Greenberg.)

  7. Foolishness on my part...aside from typoing Greenberg's name on second passing above, I managed to forget the Other wide-spectrum annual we had in the 2000s, Maxim Jakubowski's BEST BRITISH MYSTERIES, for a two year stretch of at least four BOTYs.

  8. And, as I should've noted previously, the MYSTERY SCENE-branded BOTY annual edited by Gorman and Greenberg with others on occasion, which produced more than a handful of volumes before Gorman's sale of the magazine and moving on to WORLD'S FINEST, also kept earlier BAMS volumes company on bookshelves....

  9. Congratulations to Michael and John. An honor well deserved.

  10. Thanks, Todd, for providing more detailed information about best-of-year anthologies. There have been more than I was aware of!

  11. Congratulations to you and John!

  12. There were also three volumes of The Best Mystery Stories of the Year on, believe it or not, audiocassette, edited by Marty Greenberg and me in the late '80s and published by Dercum Audio. I only have the 1988 one (six hours, four cassettes), which includes ten stories by Harlan Ellison, Brendan Dubois, Robert Barnard, Loren D. Estleman, William Campbell Gault, Brian Garfield, and a couple of other people.

  13. Congratulations on the fine showing in this year's edition--and over so many years!


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