In a previous post, I promised to rate the stories in the 2010 edition of The Best American Mystery Stories. Here they are! Ratings are done by number of stars, and vary from 2.5 to 5 stars. Just to make it clear, these are all great stories, all well worth reading. And although I have quite a few 5’s on the list, there are three stories that are my absolute favorites: Blood and Dirt, The Emerald Coast, and Animal Rescue. They’re all kind of gritty and have an air of hope in hopeless circumstances .
Tell Me – 4 stars. Compelling story of a woman who was the victim of rape and attempted murder who is being victimized again by a well-meaning family who won’t tell her what happened to her. Her only true friend is punished for her honesty while the victim summons up the fortitude to rebel the only way she can.
The House on Pine Terrace – 3 stars. Twisty story about a female cop with a desire for a wealthy lifestyle who is betrayed by her lover, goes to jail, but still dreams of the life that could have been.
Bias – 4 stars. Solid police procedural, but deeper, exploring both thoughtless bias that doesn’t require any facts as well as loyalty and relationships. We never find out who exactly shot the convenience store clerk, but we don’t need to.
Bismarck Rules – 3 stars. Hooker with history of being abused by her father decides to kill pedophile client but somebody beats her to it.
Ed Luby’s Key Club – 3 stars When the bad guys run the town, you’d better run! Claire and Harvey are trying to celebrate their wedding anniversary when they’re framed for murder. Only the new doctor in town can save them.
Custom Sets – 4 stars. Russian victim of child pornography kills her victimizing brother and father and escapes to US after sending one last set of pictures to her regulars. She tips off the authorities and watches as they all get arrested and convicted.
The Shipbreaker – 4.5 stars. After a lifetime of saving for a better life, hope is snatched away when the man he has paid in order to become his apprentice dies in a freak accident. Or was it? Justice is done but the protagonist does not triumph.
Blood and Dirt – 5 stars. Extremely well-written and mesmerizing family mayhem on the fringes.
An Early Christmas – 5 stars. The perfect police procedural. Great characters, red herrings ( or are they? ), a heart-tugging motive and more.
Charlie and the Pirates – 5 stars. Skimmer on the lam is found. Short and extra twisty!
The Emerald Coast – 5 stars. A redneck felon trying to go straight and his buddy come up against a serial killer in mid-assault. Mayhem ensues and then the redneck goes back to his new life.
Maynard – 3 stars. Short but tense character study of an abused woman moving on.
Dredge – 4 stars. Sad story of a broken, damaged man. He’s not guilty of murder – he just took the drowned girl’s body home and kept it – but it’s going to end badly.
A Jury of His Peers – 2.5 stars. Historical mystery set in 1842, a lawyer returns from being held hostage by the Mexican Army to find that his law practice and his wife have both been taken over by another man. The man disappears, his horse returns to town with blood on the saddle, and the lawyer is accused of murder. With no law in town, he is tried by a jury of his peers – other lawyers.
Designer Justice – 3 stars. Bad guy robs rich couple, kills wife, but is found not guilty due to testimony of expert witness, only to find that another kind of justice – a much stricter version of solitary confinement for life – is coming his way thanks to the vengeful husband.
The Cross-Eyed Bear – 3 stars. Pedophile priest gets his comeuppance. Notable for successfully getting the reader to see the priest-boy relationship through the priest’s eyes.
The Case of Colonel Warburton’s Madness – 4 stars. By long distance and through a story related by his friend Watson, Sherlock Holmes unravels the “Gaslighting” of retired Colonel Warburton by his niece and nephew, angling for the family fortune.
The First Rule Is – 4 stars. “Miracle” Miles had a great pro basketball career, but he’s no dumb jock. He’s not just tough, he’s smart. He’s one step ahead of the grudge-carrying homeboy from his past and the slick deal-maker who think he can con him in business.
Killing Time – 5 stars. Hit man Fallon fails an assignment. Tracked by the company, he assumes the identity of the middle school teacher he killed while making his getaway. He bonds with the kids, sort of, and saves them all when the bad guys make an assault on the school. Great characterization and plot.
Animal Rescue – 5 stars. Is Nadia in on the con, when the tough guy steals Bob’s puppy and wants $10,000 in ransom? Bob pays up. Then the tough guy wants more, preening about his tough guy past. Bob seems mild mannered, but there’s only so much a guy can take.