The Best American Mystery Stories 2008

The Best American Mystery Stories 2008

These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents arc products of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

“Mist” is reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group from Jesus out to Sea: Stories try James Lee Burke. Copyright © 2007 by James Lee Burke. Originally appeared in the Southern Review.

Michael Connelly, “Mulholland Dive,” from L.A. Noir, Akashic Books, 2007. Copyright © 2007 by Michael Connelly. Reprinted by permission of Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency, Inc.

Robert Ferrigno, “The Hour When the Ship Comes In,” from L.A. Noir, Akashic Books, 2007. Copyright © 2007 by Robert Ferrigno. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Chuck Hogan, “One Good One,” from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March/April 2007. Copyright © 2007 by Chuck Hogan. Reprinted by permission of Multimedia Threat, Inc.

Rupert Holmes, “The Monks of the Abbey Victoria,” from Dead Man’s Hand, edited by Otto Penzler, 2007, Harcourt. Copyright © 2007 by Rupert Holmes. Reprinted by permission of Rupert Holmes.

Holly Goddard Jones, “Proof of God,” from Epoch, Vol. 56, no. 1. 2007. Copyright © 2007 by Holly Goddard Jones. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Peter LaSalle, “Tunis and Time,” from Antioch Review, Winter 2007. Copyright © 2008 by Peter LaSalle. Reprinted by permission of Peter LaSalle.

Kyle Minor, “A Day Meant to Do Less,” from the Gettysburg Review, Summer 2007. Copyright © 2008 by Kyle Minor. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Alice Munro, “Child’s Play,” from Harper’s Magazine, February 2007. Copyright © 2007 by Alice Munro. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Thisbe Nissen, “Win’s Girl,” from Cincinnati Review, Winter 2007. Copyright © 2007 by Thisbe Nissen. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Joyce Carol Oates, “The Blind Man’s Sighted Daughters,” from Fiction, Fall/Winter 2007. Copyright © 2008 by Joyce Carol Oates/Ontario Review, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Ontario Review, Inc.

Nathan Oates, “The Empty House,” from the Antioch Review, Fall 2007. Copyright © 2007 by The Antioch Review, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the Editors.

Jas. R. Petrin, “Car Trouble,” from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, December 2007. Copyright © 2007 by Jas. R. Petrin. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Scott Phillips, “The Emerson, 1950,” from Murdaland, Issue #2. Copyright 2008 by Scott Phillips. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Stephen Rhodes, “At the Top of His Game,” from Wall Street Noir, Akashic Books. Copyright © 2008 by Tributary Intellectual Property Corp. LLC. Reprinted by permission of the author.

S. J. Rozan, “Hothouse,” from Bronx Noir. Copyright © 2007 by S. J. Rozan. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Hugh Sheehy, “The Invisibles,” from the Kenyon Review, Vol. 29, no. 4. Copyright © 2007 by Hugh Sheehy. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Elizabeth Strout, “A Different Road,” from Tin House, Vol. 8, no. 4. Copyright © 2007 by Elizabeth Strout. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Melissa Van Beck, “Given Her History,” from Porcupine Literary Arts Magazine, Vol. 10, no. 2. Copyright © 2007 by Melissa Van Beck. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Scott Wolven, “St. Gabriel,” from Expletive Deleted, Bleak House Books. Copyright © 2007 by Scott Wolven. Reprinted by permission of the author.


Going back to the nineteenth century, Houghton Mifflin has been an independent publishing house primarily interested in high-quality literature. It started to publish The Best American Short Stories as an annual volume in 1915 and inaugurated The Best American Mystery Stories in 1997. By the standards of the present day, it is regarded as a medium-size house. Last year, its parent company acquired the parent company of Harcourt, another old and distinguished publishing firm, and the two imprints have been combined. Even together, they are still dwarfed by giants such as Random House, Viking. Hachette, and Simon & Schuster. This appears to be just fine with them and should be cause for silent celebration by all readers who care about good books.

Neither of these elegant publishers was noted for its ten-million-dollar advances to popular writers, or for its overhyped million-dollar advertising and promotion campaigns for the latest fad-diet book. They have placed their share of books on national and regional bestseller lists the old-fashioned way, by publishing outstanding works and giving them realistic and appropriate support. They have remained independent and successful by following this course, and there is cause for hope and even exaltation that this merger will strengthen both firms.

This, the twelfth edition of The Best American Mystery Stories, is the first to be published since the merger, and so far, so good. Two publishing houses with a sense of history, notable for their integrity, are savvy enough to turn profits (the indispensable element in any business that is necessary to keep the doors open) on a regular basis. No editor or executive has knocked on the door to offer “suggestions” about changes, no memos have appeared in the mailbox with advice on how to improve the “product” (a repugnant word I have never heard from anyone at Houghton Mifflin regarding this series, or at Harcourt, where I have a crime fiction imprint). So, barring a sudden change of philosophy or priorities, I expect we’ll keep on tooling along for a while, trying hard to bring the most outstanding mystery stories of the year to readers for the foreseeable future.

And a good thing, too, as there were more submissions and discovered stories than in any year to date. More stories in electronic magazines, more editors of literary journals submitting greater numbers of stories, more short story collections and anthologies filled with mystery tales, all combined to produce a bumper crop of outstanding fiction from which to make the ever more difficult decision about what can be contained in these pages.

As frequent readers of this series are aware, each annual volume would, I am convinced, require three years to compile were it not for the uncanny ability of my colleague, Michele Slung, to read, absorb, evaluate thousands of pages in what appears to be a nanosecond. After culling the nonmysteries, as well as those crime stories perpetrated by writers who may want to consider careers in carpentry or knitting instead of wasting valuable trees for their efforts, I read stacks of them, finally settling on the fifty best — or, at least, my fifty favorites — which are then passed on to the guest editor, who happily this year is the supremely talented George Pelecanos.

The author of more than a dozen mystery novels, including the Edgar Allan Poe Award nominee Drama City, Pelecanos has written and produced numerous episodes of the HBO series The Wire, for which he won an Edgar and was nominated for an Emmy. The generosity of this distinguished author, giving up countless hours to read the finalists and select the top twenty stories, cannot be overstated, and the same debt of gratitude is owed to the previous guest editors: Robert B. Parker (1997), Sue Grafton (1998), Evan Hunter Ed McBain (1999), Donald E. Westlake (2000), Lawrence Block (2001), James Ellroy (2002), Michael Connelly (2003), Nelson DeMille (2004),Joyce Carol Oates (2005), Scott Turow (2000), and Carl Hiaasen (2007).

The search has already begun for suitable stories for next year’s edition. To qualify, a story must be — duh — a mystery, by which I mean any work of fiction in which a crime, or the threat of a crime, is integral to the theme or plot. It must be written by an American or Canadian and have had its first publication in the calendar year of 2008 in an American or Canadian publication. If you are the author of such a work, or its editor, or any interested party (your credentials will not be reviewed), please feel free to submit it. Every word of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine is read, and it is unlikely that we will miss a story published in an anthology entirely devoted to mystery stories, so there is no need to call these to our attention. If the story was first published online, only hard copies will be read; these must include the name of the e-zinc, the date on which it was published, and contact information. No unpublished stories are eligible, for what should be obvious reasons. Submitted material will not be returned. If you do not trust the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the book, magazine, or tear sheets, please enclose a self-addressed post card to receive confirmation.

The earlier submissions are received, the less hurriedly will they be read. If your story is one of fifty or sixty or more delivered during Christmas week, it may not receive quite the same respectful readin ...