03 July 2024

Long Time Reviewing Shorts

Recently a discussion on the email list of the Short Mystery Fiction Society  (which you can all join for free, by the way)   led me to talking about my habit of reviewing short stories.  Some members wanted to know more and it struck me that it might be useful to go into detail here, rather than repeating myself to individuals.  So this may get a little deep into the weeds here.

In 2009 I decided to make notes on the best short mystery stories I read and I produced a list at the end of the year that ran in Criminal Brief.    I have kept that up ever since, moving it to SleuthSayers  when we started up.

In 2011 I added a wrinkle.  I started the Little Big Crimes blog where I reviewed the best short mystery story I read each week.  And I've been doing that ever since.

(By the way, I run Litle Big Crimes with Blogger, the same system that we use for SleuthSayers.  It is quirky - and that's being kind - but it has held up all these years - and it's free!)

Why do I review a story every week? Well, a bunch of reasons:

1. I enjoy reading a lot of short stories.  The reviewing process makes me feel like I am accomplishing something by reading them.

2. Since I like to read (and write and try to sell) short stories it is in my interest to encourage people to read them.

3. Finding something to write about every week forces me to think more deeply about the stories which increases my enjoyment and is good for my writing.

Why do I review the best story? I have no desire to write negative reviews of anything.  And as for producing a blistering attack on a short story - well, talk about breaking a butterfly on a wheel.

How do I decide which is the best story? That's easy.  It's the one i like the most.  If, as happens on rare occasions, I am torn between two stories, I choose the one I can think of the most interesting things to write about.

What do I get out of it besides the benefits mentioned above? One thing I don't get is any kind of payment.  It may sound odd to even mention that but I felt I had to say so in my blog a few years ago when there was a scandal about reviewers taking money.  Not that anyone ever offered!

On the other hand, some publishers (and editors and authors) have given me copies of books or magazines to review and I am grateful for that.  Last year I purchased 16 anthologies (plus magazines) so freebies are a nice change.

And that reminds me: since I believe in full disclosure I always mention at the beginning of a review if there is any factor that might have affected my choice, such as receiving a free copy, or the author being a friend of mine.  

That brings up another benefit: I have made friends with a lot of writers who thanked me for selecting them. (They hsve to find that out without help from me, by the way. Notifying them would feel like I was saying "Now what are you going to do for me?")

Another plus, of course, is that some readers find out about me because of my reviews.  This has led to my worldwide fame.  Okay, maybe not. But I do average about 1700 readers a week, and that ain't nothing.

Do I have any regrets about reviewing?  One, I don't read as many novels as I would like or even old short stories.  It's hard to keep up with even most of the mysteries.  I take off my hat to Michele Slung, who reads many more each year for Otto Penzler's best-of collections.

And another regret: I wish more women and people of color showed up in my best-of lists.  Next year I hope to keep track of how many I read of various groups and figure out how the percentages are working out.

The thing is, I really do pick the story I like best each week, and I can't change my preferences by an act of will.  One reason I have written this piece is in the hope that more people will be encouraged to write their own short story reviews.  Who knows? They may even disagree with me.  That would be very welcome!


  1. Robert, I love this, especially your reasons for doing what you do, and your obvious enjoyment. I’m glad you are encouraging others to follow your example, because I think I might like to.

  2. Judy Penz Sheluk03 July, 2024 09:20

    I hope you never select a story based on any criteria beyond which one you liked the best that week, and not for any other reason. Keep up the good work and thanks for reviewing stories in past and present Superior Shores Anthologies!

    1. Yeah, that's the only way to do it, I think. Thanks for the good books.

  3. Chuck Brownman03 July, 2024 09:43

    I think your three benefits are interesting, Rob ... especially number 3! Forcing oneself to articulate why a story worked for you can help our writing. I may try that myself!

    As an occasional / binge reader of your LBC reviews, I enjoy them and hope you'll continue!

    And thanks for continuing to bring attention to the mystery / crime fiction short story as a separate form.

  4. I'm glad that you do this, and I enjoy reading your reviews. Nice post.

    --Daniel C. Bartlett

  5. I LOVE the Little Big Crimes blog! I also love that you picked a story from my recent anthology for a May writeup. You have such good taste! It's always interesting to read your weekly picks.

    1. Kaye, thanks. You may notice I tiptoed around saying "I loved the twist ending" because it would have been unhelpful to warn readers that one existed. One of the difficulties of reviewing...

  6. "I wish more women and people of color showed up in my best-of lists." Robert, you've really made me think. I remember when I was ED of Crime Writers of Canada, and we found that our men and women jurors seemed to be picking very different stories for the Arthur Ellis awards, time and time again. I've been a juror many times for many different awards, and I agree that you have to pick the story you like the best, regardless of other criteria. Yet we struggled with the very thing you said above. And I still struggle.

  7. Rob, I always enjoy your reviews. And thank you for reviewing 3 of mine over the years!

  8. Thanks for an interesting piece, Rob. I particularly liked this: "Finding something to write about every week forces me to think more deeply about the stories which increases my enjoyment and is good for my writing."
    This is why I keep a notebook of my reading, making a list of each book and writing notes to myself about what I liked and didn't like. If I review a book on Bookbub or Goodreads, the notes help, but the main goal is to articulate my reaction to the book with the aim of improving my writing.
    I also note author gender, race, and if I know it, sexual orientation/gender identity, as a way of making sure I read widely.

    1. Thanks, Leslie. I privately track the books I read. I only review on Amazon the ones I can give 5 stars to (and I am sure I miss some of them.) I do track the gender of the authors of books, for my own edification.


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