cover image The Best American Mystery Stories

The Best American Mystery Stories

. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $27.5 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-395-93917-8

Guest editor Westlake has done an outstanding job selecting 20 stories published in 1999 for this stellar anthology, now in its fourth year, which should continue to garner big sales. In his introduction he wonders at the form's durability. The financial rewards are small, and these days short stories won't make a literary reputation. Why then do its practitioners persist? As with jazz, that other great American contribution to world art, they engage in it ""primarily for the love of doing it,"" asserts Westlake. In contrast to the novel, where digressions and red herrings are the norm, unity of effect is all, as exemplified by the inventor of the detective story, Edgar Allan Poe--and by the contemporary writers represented in this volume. The names here range from the late Shel Silverstein, bestselling children's book author, whose rollicking tale, ""The Guilty Party,"" stands as a fitting swan song for this versatile talent, to Thomas H. McNeely, whose quietly chilling psychological study, ""Sheep,"" is his first published work of fiction. Robert Girardi's novella, ""The Defenestration of Aba Sid,"" works both as a tale of comic absurdity and as an anti-Grisham lawyer story. In a foreword, series editor Otto Penzler comments on how mysteries have evolved in both style and content. Over the life of the genre, stories have become more complex, more textured. When Penzler says ""be prepared for the unexpected, and be ready for some of the best prose being written today,"" he's not overstating the case. This title will enjoy brisk library sales but is also poised to benefit from the continued general-reader interest in matters mysterious. (Oct.)