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The Best American Mystery Stories 1998 Hardcover – October 30, 1998

4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Of the almost 600 mystery stories published in 1997, guest editor Sue Grafton has selected twenty of the finest for this installment of the acclaimed annual series. Authors range from the established (like Lawrence Block, Mary Higgins Clark, and Walter Mosley) to newcomers like David Ballard. All the tales are grounded in mystery fundamentals of crime and (usually) punishment, but each contains some edge or narrative experimentation that sets it apart from the flock. Block's "Keller on the Spot," for example, is a sardonic tale of a killer who saves the grandson of his next hit and winds up questioning his professional path. Stuart Kaminsky's entry, "Find Miriam," is a first-person narrative by Lew Fonesca, a detective who makes his living "finding people, asking questions, answering to nobody." In this case, however, the finding isn't the puzzle--the real puzzle is his client, a troubled husband whose wife has left him without an apparent motive. Throughout, Grafton's tastes run to the literary, and she is fascinated by the cathartic quality of each story. As she writes in her introduction: "Nowhere is iniquity, wrongdoing, and reparation more satisfying to behold than in the well-crafted yarns spun by the writers represented here. While we're plunged into the darkness by their skill and imagination, we're simultaneously reassured that we are safe... from ourselves." --Patrick O'Kelley

From Kirkus Reviews

paper 0-395-83585-2 Series editor Otto Penzler, who picked the 50 stories from which Grafton culled the 20 in this volume, has ranged far afield in search of what Grafton aptly calls crime stories, and the rewards are substantial. Scott Bartelss matter-of-fact heroin idyll first appeared in Tamaqua, Merrill Joan Gerber's tale of an ominously pesky fellow-alumnus in Chattahoochee Review, Steve Yarbrough's sorrowful rural reminiscence in Missouri Review, Dave Shaws droll confession of a chronic slip-and-fall artist in South Dakota Review, Joyce Carol Oatess tormented memoir of a faithless mother in Kenyon Review. Of the entries from more expected sources, the standouts are Stuart Kaminskys unexpectedly bleak quest for a missing wife, Peter Robinsons deceptively mellowed portrait of two old ladies sharing a cottage, and first-timer David Ballards remarkably assured spin on Roald Dahls classic Man from the Southas well as stories by Lawrence Block, John Lutz, and Donald E. Westlake that can also be found in Ed Gorman's rival The Year's 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories (p. 1240). Not the comprehensive yearbook of the genre Gorman produces, but this year, at least, a more rewarding collection of stories. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: Best American Mystery Stories
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (October 30, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395835860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395835869
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #549,333 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Sue Grafton introduces this entertaining collection with an important disclaimer. The stories she's picked from mystery magazines and other sources as different as Playboy and the Kenyon Review aren't all quite mysteries in the classical sense. Rather, reflecting a change in the genre that series editor Otto Penzler notes in his Foreword, they're stories whose central feature is simply a crime or a criminal of one kind or another. And sometimes the criminality is handled in an "offbeat" way.
Dave Shaw's well-told "Twelve Days out of Traction" takes us into a petty criminal's mind with amusing results. His narrator runs an insurance scam where he stages falls and his fake lawyer friends write threatening letters that earn his little consortium good money. But it's painful work--as the title indicates--and sometimes he can get surprisingly upstaged. Lawrence Block's intriguing "Keller on the Spot" offers a different twist. Keller's a contract killer sent to Dallas to murder a millionaire, but he ironically ends up becoming involved in the man's life in ways he could never have expected.
David Ballard's tricky "Child Support" imagines the devilish depths to which battling spouses can sink when their marriage collapses. Helen Tucker's rather predictable "The Power of Suggestion" also explores the modern marriage battleground, drawing equally disturbing conclusions about marital happiness and what it drives people to. But Merrill Joan Gerber paints a much brighter picture of family life, one so rich and fulfilling that it inspires more than envy in "This is a Voice from Your Past.
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Format: Hardcover
I saw this book featured in one of the major book stores, so I glanced at a copy while sitting in one of their reading chairs. I started reading the first story, "Child Support" by David Ballard, and I just couldn't put it down. That story kept me on the edge of my chair, and then when I saw that he was a new writer, I came online and bought the book.
This anthology has an interesting mix. I agree with some of the comments above about the bigger name authors having the weaker stories (except for Lawrence Block's "Keller" story, which won the Edgar Award last year -- he is incapable of writing a bad story). It's a good anthology to study if you write fiction, because it showcases what's hot now, where it's being published, and why: strong characterization, novel ideas, and lots of emotion. It also features two stories that were first sales (Ballard's is one of them), which is encouraging, if only to show that, yes, new writers are out there and can make it into a year's best anthology.
I'm glad I stumbled across this anthology. I'll be looking forward to the next one.
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Format: Paperback
Doing a review on an anthology is not easy since there are a multitude of stories written by several authors. This book comprises a collection of the best mystery stories of 1998. Sue Grafton was right in saying most of the stories are crime novels, which is precisely what they are. I was pleasantly surprised by two of the stories, CHILD SUPPORT by David Ballard and SECRETS by Janice Law.
In the first story, the author takes a simple child custody story as told by the point of view of the father. He then gets into an extraordinary circumstance that jeopardizes his relationship with his son. What makes this story interesting is that it is narrated by the ex-husband, leaving the reader with the preconceptions left by the storyteller. One must remember a lesson given to us by Agatha Christie in some of her books. It is never to take the narrator's story as face value. It is not till one reaches the end that one gets the rest of the story.
SECRETS was another delightful surprise. It is a revenge story several years in the making. Its main theme is the power of motherhood and the extremes that they will go in protecting their children.
Another interesting aspect of this book is a story by Stuart Kaminsky called FIND MIRIAM. It is an abbreviated version of his novel VENGEANCE. I assume he wrote the short story before he decided to make it a novel. It takes a genius to implement that same story in a novel and I think Kaminsky pulls it off.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I trusted Sue Grafton to put together a good collection, and I was not disappointed. This collection represents 20 authors, one story each. In this type anthology, there always seems to be a presumption that the best story by one author is better than the second best by another author, but it is a good selection. There is a listing in the back of the book of additional stories that were not included. That is always a judgment call by the editor, i.e., deciding which stories to use if there is a page limit for the collection. The stories are from a wide range of sources ranging from mainstream magazines to regional literary magazines. Short biographical sketches of the authors are included in the back of the book.

While stories in a collection can be of mixed quality, I generally liked all the stories and, as usual in anthologies, found some authors I was not previously acquainted with. Anthologies are usually a good way to find references to authors who can be checked on for other work - I often find novels that way.
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