Showing posts with label Best short stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Best short stories. Show all posts

29 January 2020

You've Tried The Rest; Now Read The Best




This is my eleventh annual list of the best mystery stories of the year as chosen by me. They are selected from my weekly best-story-review at Little Big Crimes.

2019 was the second year in a row that my number of favorites dropped by three.  So I have to ask my sibling authors: Is it you or me?  Probably me.   

The big winner this year is Akashic Press, since fully half of the stories come from their anthologies.  I should point out that they sent me free advance reader copies of all those books.  You cynics can draw your own conclusions.

Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines both scored two winners.

Seven authors are men; five are women.  Two are Australian; one is Dutch.  The rest, as far as I know, are Yankees.

Three of the stories are historicals.  Three are funny.  Two have fantasy elements.

And congrats to the winners.  Your impressive trophies are in the mail.  If they never show up it's the fault of porch pirates.  Probably.




Boswell, Robert, "The Use of Landscape," in Houston Noir, edited by Gwendolyn Zepeda, Akashic Press, 2019.

Boswell offers a charming story about sociopaths.  Cole is the planner.  All he cares about is money.  Not to buy things;  just a way of keeping score.  He met his girlfriend when she tried to rob him. Tariq is a bartender and expert at cleaning crime scenes. Tariq has pointed Cole to a young woman, rich in money, poor in personality and brain power.

"Did I tell you what happened at Affirm today?" Madelyn asked.  Affirm was her gym.  She described the days activities in excruciating detail, a saga that lasted nearly twenty minutes.  Summary: she exercised.

You will be mightily entertained as the trio the narrator calls the Criminal Element plot their nastiness while discussing women's underwear and the books of Virginia Woolf.



Case, Sabrina, "Our Man in Basingstoke,"  in Fiction River: Spies, 2019.

Pity Sir Almsley.  He gave his estate to the War Office to help fight the Nazis, not expecting that he would be put in charge of a project to create new espionage techniques.  He has no skills in that field, his mission is underfunded, and his staff consists of what the sergeant calls "a human scrap metal drive."

But that's not all.  Peter Tilling, an enthusiastic and imaginative child, has been sent to a nearby farm to protect him from the blitz in London.  He is eager to slip into Almsley's estate to see the top-secret devices being built there.  Good luck with that, young Peter....



Clancy, Christi, "'Mocking Season," in Milwaukee Noir, edited by Tim Hennessy, Akashic Press, 2019.

Whitefish Bay is a pleasant bit of suburbia until it is disturbed by the arrival of Erin, who we might perhaps call a middle-aged hippy.  She lived in the one home that was not visible from the street, which disturbs the keepers of community norms, "the mothers," who feel that "It didn't seem right to live where you couldn't be seen."  And then there is her charismatic son Lief, who gets the boys into strange habits, like sleeping out doors.  That may be problematic because the mothers seem to care more about their yards than anything else...


Coward, Mat, "Shall I be Murder?", in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2019.

In Coward's second appearance on my list, our narrator gleefully explains that he is "a self-confessed unreliable narrator."  Is he, as it appears, a blackmailer?  A murderer, perhaps?  Or something else entirely?  And clearly his obvious lying is part of his plan, but why?


Dapin, Mark.  "In the Court of the Lion King," in Sydney Noir, edited by John Dale, Akashic Press, 2019.

Chevy is an architect and he is in prison awaiting trial.  The police have security camera evidence that he killed his best friend, Jamie.

Fortunately, Chevy has a lawyer: an ex-girlfriend with no knack for the legal profession.  Oh, and the Vietnamese  in the prison want him dead.  Maybe the Lion King, a disgusting gang boss, can protect him for a price.

Don't worry.  Everything is going according to Chevy's plan...


Dean, David, "The Duelist," Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2019.

My friend and fellow SleuthSayer, David Dean, is making his fourth appearance here.  This ties him for first place with Janice Law.

The time is pre-Civil War and the place is Natchez, Mississippi.  Captain Noddy has a habit of taking offense at innocent remarks by country bumpkins, and then taking their lives in duels.

Now a down-on-his-luck gambler named Darius LeClair has arrived in town and seems quite careless in talking to the dangerous captain.  Is he foolish or is he doing it on purpose?  Is he in fact a gambler or something quite different?



Fusilli, Jim, "Niall Nelson is on my Flight," in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, September/October 2019.

Betty's point: You don't send money back.  You don't negotiate out of insecurity.  You push hard.  You demand.
My question: Do they really want me?

Paul has written a treatment for a movie based on the life of musician Nick Drake and now he is flying to France to talk to a studio interested in  making the flick.  He is afraid he is not good enough.  His much-younger wife Betty clearly thinks he is not ambitious enough.   And it turns out a famous A-list actor is on their flight, someone Betty thinks he should find a way to talk to...

I love Fusilli's clever  had-I-but-known use of foreshadowing.  It was one of those men, I later learned, who set out to harm us.  




McCormick, William Burton. "The Three Camillas,"  Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,  July/August 2019.

This is the second appearance here by McCormick.

The story is set during the rule of Caligula the mad in the Roman empire.  The narrator is Camilla Tertia, which is to say, the third Camilla. Tertia is twelve and, she reports proudly, "already considered far and wide the scoundrel and gossip of the family."

Her sister Secunda is about to make an unhappy marriage.  Tertia decides it can be prevented if her expensive engagement ring is lost - a bad omen!  And who better to make it disappear than Quintus the Clever, the luckless thief?  "Be an honest man, Quintus, and rob my sister!" 



McFadden, Bernice L. "OBF, Inc," in Cutting Edge, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, Akashic Press, 2019.

Andrew is being laid off because the head of his company has been accused of multiple sexual harassment issues, leading the corporate stock to walk off a cliff.

But good news!  OBF, Inc. wants to talk to him about a possible job.  What is OBF exactly and what do they do?  The answer is extremely interesting and thought-provoking.



Taylor, Art, "Hard Return,"  in Crime Travel, edited by Barb Goffman, Wildside Press, 2019.

The man and the woman had reached that stage where their relationship would either turn more serious or slowly begin to dissolve.  The seriousness wasn't about sex, a threshold they'd already crossed, but a step into some deeper, more emotional intimacy.

My fellow SleuthSayer has written a fine story about time travel as, I think, a metaphor for certain human interactions.




Tranter, Kirsten, "The Passenger,"  in Sydney Noir, edited by John Dale, Akashic Press, 2019.

It's a rare thing when I agree with the Edgars Award short story judges, but we can sing harmony on this one.

Robert reluctantly attends a birthday party for an wealthy man, who is the father of his ex-girlfriend.   The father confides that the  daughter's husband has vanished.  Can Robert help find him? And then there's the younger daughter, who is caught up with a pornographer...

If this sounds familiar it is because this is a very clever homage to a famous crime novel.



van Keulen, Mensje,  "Devil's Island," in Amsterdam Noir, edited by Rene Appel and Josh Pachter, Akashic Press, 2018.


The narrator is trying to be helpful to his friend.  Jacob's girlfriend  left him and he can't seem to get over it.  On one bad night he even says "I'd sell [the devil] my soul if he'd make Martha come back to me."

Later that evening they are standing among the cigarette puffers outside a pub when a stranger comes out of the smoke and asks Jacob for a light.  He says that he prefers the old-fashioned wooden matches called lucifers.  "I like the smell of them, though, that momentary blast of sulfur..."



21 August 2019

Made in the Decade



by Robert Lopresti

Back in January, when I produced my yearly thing I wrote: "I was somewhat surprised to discover that this is my tenth annual list of the best short mysteries of the year, as determined by me. I will have to do something to celebrate that in a month or two."

Well, more than a month has passed, but here we are. My first thought was to pick out the Best of the Best from the 151 stories that made my original list, but that seemed like a fool's errand for various reasons. Below you will find 15 categories, subgenres if you will, and in each I have listed five stories that made my best of lists in the last decade. They aren't the Best of the Best, just excellent examples of their subgenre.   Of course, some of these could have easily fit into several categories.

And by the way, there is a hidden category tucked away here: stories with twist endings.  There are many examples below but to point them out would be counterproductive.

As a lagniappe I have added a Classic story in each category. "Classic" here is defined as a great story that was published before I started reviewing.

Availability! In each case I have listed the original publication unless I thought there was a more available site. I provided links to a few stories that are available for free on the web. You may find others elsewhere on the web but I suspected those sites might be copyright-violators or malicious, so I skipped 'em.



AMATEUR SLEUTH
Palumbo, Dennis. "A Theory of Murder," available free at Kings River Lite.
Perks, Micah. "Treasure island," in Santa Cruz Noir, edited by Susie Bright, Akashic Press, 2018.
Petrin, Jas. R. "Money Maker," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017.
Rusch, Kristine Kathryn. "The Wedding Ring," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2018.
Rozan, S.J. "Chin Yong-Yun Meets A Ghost," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2015.
Classic: Kemelman, Harry. “The Nine Mile Walk” in The Nine Mile Walk and Other Stories.

COZY
Cajoleas, Jimmy. "The Lord of Madison County," in Mississippi Noir, edited by Tom Franklin, Akashic Press, 2016.
Harlow, Jennifer. "The Bubble," in Atlanta Noir, edited by Tayari Jones, Akashic Press, 2017.
Page, Anita. “Isaac’s Daughters,” in Malice Domestic Presents: Murder Most Geographical, edited by Verena Rose, Rita Owen, and Shawn Reilly Simmons, Wildside Press, 2018.
Stevens, B.K. "The Last Blue Glass," available free at B.K. Stevens's website.
Todd, Marilyn. "Slay Belles," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. January/ February 2017.
Classic: Asimov, Isaac. “The Acquisitive Chuckle,” in Tales of the Black Widowers.

CRIMINAL’S POINT OF VIEW
Block, Lawrence. “Who Knows Where It Goes,” in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, January 2010.
Howard, Clark. “White Wolves” in The Crooked Road, Volume 3.
Paul, Bryan. "The Ice Cream Snatcher," in Thuglit, issue 13, 2014.
Sareini, Ali. F. "A Message In The Breath Of Allah," in Prison Noir, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, Akashic Press, 2014.
Warthman, Dan. "Pansy Place," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January-February 2012.
Classic: Francis, Dick. "A Carrot for a Chestnut," in Field of Thirteen.


ESPIONAGE
Child, Lee. “Section 7 (a) (Operational),” in Agents of Treachery, edited by Otto Penzler, Vintage Crime, 2010.
Deaver, Jeffery. "Hard to Get," in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2017.
Faherty, Terence. "Margo and the Silver Cane," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2013.
Lawton, John. “East of Suez, West of Charing Cross Road,” in Agents of Treachery, edited by Otto Penzler, Vintage Crime, 2010.
Rabb, Jonathan. "A Game Played," in The Strand Magazine, June-September 2013.
Classic: Household, Geoffrey. “Keep Walking,” in Days of Your Fathers.


FANTASY
Blakey, James. "Do Not Pass Go," in Mystery Weekly Magazine, September 2017.
Goree, Raymond. "A Change of Heart," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, October 2012.
Law, Janice. "The Crucial Game," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January-February 2018.
Powell, James. “The Black Whatever.” Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, January 2010.
Rozan, S. J. "e-Golem," in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine,September-October 2017.
Classic: Ellison, Harlan. “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs,” in Deathbird Stories.

HISTORICAL
Levinson, Robert S. “Regarding Certain Occurrences In A Cottage At The Garden Of Allah,” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, November 2009.
Law, Janice. “Madame Selina,” free podcast.
Rutter, Eric. “Runaway” in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September 2009.
Thornton, Brian.“Paper Son,” in Seattle Noir, edited by Curt Colbert, Akashic Press.
Williams, Jim. "The Hotel des Mutilées," on Williams's website.
Classic: Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Garden of Forking Paths,” in Collected Fictions.

HUMOROUS
Gould, Heywood. "Everything is Bashert," in Jewish Noir, edited by Kenneth Wishnia, PM Press, 2015.
Lawton, R.T. "Black Friday," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November/December 2017.
Maron, Margaret. "We On The Train!" in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 2015.
Schofield, Neil. "It'll Cost You," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September 2014.
Wiley, Michael. "Making It," in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September-October 2017.
Classic: Thurber, James. “The Catbird Seat,” in Thurber on Crime.

NOIR
Crouch, Blake. “The Pain of Others,” in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March 2011.
Gaylin, Alison. "Restraint" in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March/April 2013.
Neville, Stuart. "Faith," in Blood Work: Remembering Gary Shulze: Once Upon A Crime, edited by Rick Ollerman, Down and Out Books, 2018.
Pluck, Thomas. "The Uncleared," available free at A Twist of Noir.
Stodghill, Dick. “Deathtown,” in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November. 2009.
Classic: Kinsella, W.P. "Dance Me Outside," in Dance Me Outside.

PASTICHE
Faherty, Terence. "The Man With The Twisted Lip," in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, February 2015.
Lewis, Evan. "The Continental Opposite," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, May 2015.
Warren, James Lincoln. "Shikari," in The 1% Solution.
Warren, James Lincoln. “Shanghaied” in The 1% Solution.
Zeltserman, Dave. “Julius Katz,” in The Julius Katz Collection.
Classic: Powell, James. “The Tamerlane Crutch,” in Christmas Forever.
POLICE
Alcalá, Kathleen. “Blue Sunday” in Seattle Noir, edited by Curt Colbert, Akashic Press.
Camilleri, Andrea.  "Neck and Neck,"  in Montalbano's First Case and Other Stories.
Estleman, Loren D. “Death Without Parole.” in Detroit is Our Beat: Tales of the Four Horsemen.
Phelan, Twist. "Footprints in Water," in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, July 2013.
Powell, James.  “The Teapot Mountie Ball,” in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine,  March/April 2011.
Classic: Westlake, Donald E. “Come Back, Come Back,” in Levine.

PRIVATE DETECTIVE
Crowther, Brad.  “Politics Makes Dead Bedfellows,” in  Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2011.
Gates, David Edgerley.  "Slip Knot," by David Edgerley Gates, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November 2011.
Helms, Richard.  "Busting Red Heads,"  in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March/April 2014.
Moran, Terrie Farley.  "Inquiry and Assistance," available for free on Moran's website.
Rusch, Kristine Kathryn. “The Case of the Vanishing Boy.” The Case of the Vanishing Boy.
Classic: Grafton, Sue. “A Poison That Leaves No Trace,” in Kinsey and Me.

PSYCHOLOGICAL
Brackmann, Lisa. "Don't Feed The Bums," in San Diego Noir, Akashic Press, 2011.
Cody, Liza. "I Am Not Fluffy," in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, December 2013.
Itell, Jennifer. “Inevitable.” Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 2010.
Merchant, Judith. “Monopoly.” Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March/April 2009.
Pronzini, Bill and Barry N. Malzberg. "Night Walker," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,, March-April 2018.
Classic: Bradbury, Ray. "The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl," in The Golden Apples of the Sun.

SUI GENERIS
Armstrong, Jason. "Man Changes Mind," available free at  Thrillers, Killers, 'n Chillers.
Muir, Brian. “Dummy,” in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 2009.
Rogers, Cheryl. "The Ballad of Maggie Carson," in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 2016.
Smith, Mark Haskell. “1968 Pelham Blue SG Jr.” in Crime Plus Music, edited by Jim Fusilli, Three Rooms Press, 2016.
Weikart, Jim, "The Samsa File," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September 2013.
Classic: Faulkner William. “A Rose For Emily,” in A Rose For Emily and Other Stories.

SUSPENSE
Buck, Craig Faustus. "Blank Shot," in Black Coffee, edited by Andrew MacRae, Dark House Books, 2016.
Day, Russell. "The Icing on the Cake," in Noirville, Fahrenheit Press, 2018.
Estleman, Loren D. “Rumble Strip” in Amos Walker: The Complete Story Collection.
Gates, David Edgerley. "Cabin Fever," in The Best American Mystery Stories 2018.
Tippee, Robert. "Underground Above Ground," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, March/April 2017.
Classic: Cail, Carol. “Sinkhole,” in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Presents Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense.

VICTIM’S POINT OF VIEW
DuBois, Brendan. "The Final Ballot," in Mystery Writers of America presents Vengeance, edited by Lee Child, Mulholland Books, 2012.
Hallman, Tom, Jr. "Kindness," in Mystery Weekly Magazine, April 2018.
Law, Janice, "The Double," in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue 7.
Opperman, Meg. "The Discovery," in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, Issue 18.
Rusch, Kristine Kathryn. "Christmas Eve at the Exit," in The Best American Mystery Stories 2016.
Classic: Ellin, Stanley. "You Can't Be a Little Girl all Your Life," in The Specialty of the House and Other Stories.