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The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century (The Best American Series) Paperback – April 13, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 840 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (April 13, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618012710
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618012718
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.1 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Anthologies are tricky things for editors: to select a story for inclusion is to make oneself a target for readers who wonder hotly why X or Y or Z wasn't chosen. And to be so brash as to deem an anthology the best anything of the century practically invites scorn and condemnation. But with The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, Tony Hillerman, Edgar-winning author, and Otto Penzler, founder of the Mysterious Press, step boldly to the firing line with a salvo of 55 stories that are so devious and absorbing, challenging and rewarding that most readers will hold their fire.

The collection stretches from O. Henry's 1903 tale of a bank robber who abandons his trade ("A Retrieved Reformation") to Dennis Lehane's unsettling sketch of a post-Gothic southern town and its canine conundrum ("Running Out of Dog," 1999), and brings together authors who at first seem uneasy bedfellows. William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway jostle for space with Donald Westlake and Stephen Greenleaf; Willa Cather and Flannery O'Conner stare combatively at Sara Paretsky and Sue Grafton. But as one reads along, these potentially tense alliances relax: the boundaries between "modern" and "classic," "pulp" and "literature" evanesce, leaving instead a shimmering web of serendipitous affiliations: O. Henry and Stephen King nod amiably to one another, united by the skill of their devious narrative twists.

Hillerman and Penzler's selections reflect a century-long shift in mystery fiction from an emphasis on an exterior landscape--replete with the tangible artifacts of who, what, where, when, how, why--to a growing interest in the geography of interiority. This landscape thrives on the amorphousness of its own features. In Tom Franklin's "Poachers," for example, the puzzle hardly matters at all: real people, and their endlessly convoluted relationships, do. Three orphaned brothers who live as predators in the swamps of the Gulf Coast, the old widower who loves them, the sheriff who pities them all--who kills two of the boys and blinds a third? We never really know. In any case, Franklin's infinitely shaded nuances of silence and speech matter far more than the violence of the crime itself.

And for those readers who, when all is read and done, still insist that they could have done a much better job of judging, Penzler's disarming editorial shrug serves to remind that any anthology should be approached with equanimity, a touch of resignation, and not a little humor: "There are no scientific instruments that can tell a reader which of Harlan Ellison's two Edgar-winning short stories is better. It is a coin toss, and it can't be anything else. Let's just live with it." Happily, The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century is an extraordinarily rewarding companion. --Kelly Flynn --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Hillerman, one of America's most distinguished crime novelists (The First Eagle, The Fallen Man, etc.), and Penzler, Mysterious Bookshops owner and Mysterious Press founder as well as series editor of the publisher's Best American Mystery Stories, have pooled their considerable expertise to pick the 55 tales that make up this hefty compendium. In between O. Henry's "A Retrieved Reformation" (1903) and Dennis Lehane's "Running Out of Dog" (1999), the editors include short gems by classic masters (Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler) and contemporary giants (Lawrence Block, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky). Well represented also are authors not usually associated with the field (Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates). In his foreword, Penzler entertainingly describes the formidable and sometimes subjective process of winnowing thousands of possible stories to a manageable number. Hillerman, meanwhile, who made the final selection, comments in his introduction on the genre's evolution from puzzle mystery for an elite readership 100 years ago to something much more substantial and democratic today, taking issue with critics such as Edmund Wilson and Jacques Barzun--who, he says, have failed to appreciate mystery's literary and social worth. Fans are sure to agree with Hillerman. This anthology is a cornerstone volume for any mystery library. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Otto Penzler is the proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop (www.mysteriousbookshop.com) in New York City and is regarded as the world's foremost authority on crime, mystery and suspense fiction. He founded The Mysterious Press in 1975, which he later sold to Warner Books (1989). He reacquired the imprint in 2010 and it now publishes original books as an imprint at Grove/Atlantic, and both original works and classic crime fiction through MysteriousPress.com (www.mysteriouspress.com), in partnership with Open Road Integrated Media.

Penzler is a prolific editor, and has won two Edgar Awards, for Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection in 1977 and The Lineup in 2010. The Mystery Writers of America awarded him the prestigious Ellery Queen Award in 1994 and the Raven--the group's highest non-writing award--in 2003.

Customer Reviews

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I usually read very slowly.
Kamila Z. Miller
The Best American Mysteries Stories of the Century, compiled by Tony Hillerman and Otto Penzler, is a remarkably good anthology.
Michael Wischmeyer
I recommend this book to any and all mystery lovers.
Barbara R. Breger

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Brenda VINE VOICE on July 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The stories in it reminded me of the great writers I enjoyed much earlier in the century. I liked the fact that they dated the stories to let the reader know when they were written. I must commend Tony Hillerman for his impressive choices; it couldn't have been an easy job. I can tell you right now, don't expect to read it in one week, not even in a month. I do recommend you savor and enjoy these stories slowly, even repeatedly, over an extended length of time, possibly even between other mysteries. What I mean is, who would WANT to hurry through such classics as James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler, William Faulkner, Susan Glaspell, Stephen Greenleaf, Dashell Hammett, O Henry, Sue Grafton, or Flannery O'Connor? And that's just a drop in the bucket of Who's Who in this 813-page book.
Flannery O'Connor is one of my all time favorites. She has a strong way of making a point; her endings have always taken me by surprise. Her 1965-story The Comforts of Home, about a son still living with his mother and the unwelcome guest she brings home, has the honor of being included. Another great one is, Susan Glaspell's 1917 story, A Jury of Her Peers; a story of a husband who hung himself while still in bed. Then there's a 1905 story by Willa Cather called Paul's Case; about a recently released safe cracker who may or may not go straight. Be sure to read Tony Hillerman's introduction. He tells the reader the difference between literature and mystery and how mystery has evolved. On my keeper shelf it goes!
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Mark S. Winger on June 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
Regardless of whether you agree with the choices of all the stories selected within this book, it is a great representation of american mystery stories in the 20th century. The inclusion of some of the centuries most prolific mystery writers, (Chandler, Hammett, Cain, MacDonald (Ross & John D.)), famous novelists (Faulkner, Steinbeck, Buck), modern writers (Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, Sue Grafton, etc.), and countless others make this a fantastic collection. Only a "sour grapes" type of personality could not appreciate this book. I guarantee that this collection will have you wanting to read more from some of these authors, and probably expose you to authors you weren't aware of previously. With stories varying from 10 to 40 pages, you can choose how long you want to read. I am an avid mystery reader, and I while there are many great books and stories I have read, I feel this is the best purchase I have made for the assortment of authors, styles, and stories I have been exposed to.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on March 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Talk about pressure. The goal is to select fifty-five tales with each twentieth century decade having at least three entries written by American authors to represent the best mystery short stories of the last hundred years. That is what Tony Hillerman and Otto Penzler set out to do and succeeded.

As expected many of the famous classic mystery writers such Hammett, Queen, and Chandler have works included in this tome. Also not surprising is that several of current popular authors such as Block, Paretsky, and Lehane have works contained in the anthology. It will be very startling to some fans that members of the Who's Who of American literature includes names such as O'Henry, Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Thurber. Added to the mix is an explanation on the selection process by Penzler and a brief historical look at how vast the genre has grown from its roots.

Harriet Klausner
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael Wischmeyer on January 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
The Best American Mysteries Stories of the Century, compiled by Tony Hillerman and Otto Penzler, is a remarkably good anthology. The editors imposed few rules on themselves, other than identifying the best stories. Some years are skipped while others have two or three offerings. They did limit their choices to only one story for a given author, perhaps unfairly penalizing exceptional writers like Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Harry Kemelman, Ellery Queen, John McDonald, and Ross McDonald.

In general (but with clear exceptions like A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell), the earlier stories are largely puzzle mysteries, ones that challenge the reader to outsmart the author, while the later stories offer more character development and psychological depth. Readers less familiar with puzzle mysteries may find the earlier stories a bit foreign, and might benefit by reading the stories in this collection in reverse chronological order, thereby, beginning with more familiar terrain.

My favorites span the 1930s thru the 1950s, a period in which American authors began that major transformation of the American mystery as best characterized by the writing of Raymond Chandler. With Chandler's guidance, the pulp mystery fiction of earlier decades metamorphosed successfully into what might be called formal literature, writing more concerned with character development and with social issues.

More recent decades include great stories like The Comforts of Home (Flannery O'Connor), The Possibility of Evil (Shirley Jackson), Do With Me What You Will (Joyce Carol Oates), The Parker Shotgun (Sue Grafton), and Poachers (Tom Franklin).
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