The Best American Mystery Stories 2012

Tom Andes, Peter S. Beagle, K. L. Cook, Jason Deyoung, Joe Donnelly, Harry Shannon, Kathleen Ford, Mary Gaitskill, Jesse Goolsby, Katherine L. Hester, Lou Manfredo, Thomas Mcguane, Nathan Oates, Gina Paoli, T. Jefferson Parker, Thomas J. Rice, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Lones Seiber, Charles Todd, Tim L. Williams, Otto Penzler, Robert Crais

The Best American Mystery Stories 2012

An anthology of stories edited by Robert Crais and Otto Penzler

The Best American series is the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. Each volume's series editor selects notable works from hundreds of magazines, journals, and websites. A special guest editor, a leading writer in the field, then chooses the best twenty or so pieces to publish. This unique system has made the Best American series the most respected – and most popular – of its kind.

The Best American Mystery Stories 2012 includes

Peter S. Beagle, Kathleen Ford, Mary Gaitskill, Jesse Goolsby, Lou Manfredo, Thomas McGuane, Gina Paoli, T. Jefferson Parker, Kristine Kathryn Rusch,

Charles Todd, Daniel Woodrell, and others

A book in the Best American Mystery Stories series, 2012


HAVING WRITTEN AND SPOKEN about mystery fiction frequently (some ungenerous soul might say ad nauseam) through the years, I have maintained that one of its appeals is that it is a literary presentation of a fundamental life force: a battle between those who value Good in opposition to the spear carriers of Evil.

Ruminating on it recently, however, I came to think this may be less true at this time than it was when I first became interested in crime fiction. As character and psychological elements of a story have transcended plots and clues, as the reason why a murder was committed has transcended the question of who committed it or how it was done, it seems to be that the two omnipresent factors in contemporary crime fiction are Death and Sin.

Death appears to provide the minds of readers with a greater fund of innocent amusement than any other single subject except love, but of course in crime fiction they are not mutually exclusive components of a novel or short story. Furthermore, when Death is accompanied by Sin in its most repugnant shapes, the fun increases exponentially. Some readers prefer the intellectual cheerfulness of a detective story while others have a taste that runs more to noir fiction, but in either case the story generally requires at least one dead body and at least one very wicked person for it to provide that frisson of pleasure that may be had while viewing horrible events from a safe distance.

Here, then, in the sixteenth volume in this distinguished series, is a collection of stories nearly all of which are about Death and Sin, with plenty of dead bodies and an abundance of wicked people. They are designed, albeit unconsciously on the most part, to make you feel that it’s good to be alive and, while alive, on the whole, to be good.

It should be noted, in a parenthetical aside, that mystery writers are, with (truly) few exceptions, good. It is fundamental to their jobs to be aware of the fact that your sins will be discovered, no matter how clever you think you are. This is why, it should be further noted, mystery fiction is such a good influence in an increasingly degenerate world, and why it is so popular with academics, lawyers, politicians, and others who have reputations to protect; reading mysteries improves their morals and keeps them out of excessive mischief.

While it is redundant for me to write it again, since I have done it in each of the previous fifteen volumes of this series, I recognize the lamentable fact that not everyone has read every one of those books, nor memorized the introductory remarks, so it falls into the category of fair warning to state that many people regard a “mystery” only as a detective story. I regard the detective story as one subgenre of a much bigger genre, which I define as any work of fiction in which a crime, or the threat of a crime, is central to the theme or the plot. While I love good puzzles and tales of pure ratiocination, few of these are written today, as the mystery genre has evolved (or devolved, depending on your point of view) into a more character-driven form of literature, as noted previously. The line between mystery fiction and general fiction has become more and more blurred in recent years, producing fewer memorable detective stories but more significant literature. It has been my goal in this series to recognize that fact and to reflect it between these covers. The best writing makes it into the book. Fame, friendship, original venue, reputation, subject-none of it matters. It isn’t only the qualification of being the best writer that will earn a place in the table of contents; it also must be the best story.

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, and 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 this year is the creator of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, Robert Crais. Coincidentally, but generously, he began writing the introduction to this volume on the same weekend that his most recent novel, Taken, hit the number-one spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

My sincere thanks go to this supernaturally gifted author, as well as to the previous guest editors, who helped make this series so successful: Robert B. Parker, who started it all in 1997, followed by Sue Grafton, Ed McBain, Donald E. Westlake, Lawrence Block, James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, Nelson DeMille, Joyce Carol Oates, Scott Turow, Carl Hiaasen, George Pelecanos, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, and Harlan Coben.

While Michele and I engage in a relentless quest to locate and read every mystery/crime/suspense story published, I live in fear that we will miss a worthy one, so if you are an author, editor or publisher, or care about one, please feel free to send a book, magazine, or tearsheet to me c/o The Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007. If the story first appeared electronically, you must submit a hard copy. It is vital to include the author’s contact information. No unpublished material will be considered, for what should be obvious reasons. No material will be returned. If you distrust the postal service, enclose a self-addressed, stamped postcard.

To be eligible, a story must have been written by an American or a Canadian and first issued in an American or Canadian publication in the calendar year 2012 with a 2012 publication date. The earlier in the year I receive the story, the more fondly I regard it. For reasons known only to the blockheads who wait until Christmas week to submit a story published the previous spring, holding eligible stories for months before submitting them occurs every year, which causes much gnashing of teeth while I read a stack of stories as my wife and friends are trimming the Christmas tree or otherwise celebrating the holiday season. It had better be a damned good story if you do this. Because of the very tight production schedule for this book, the absolute deadline is December 31. If the story arrives one day later, it will not be read. Sorry.

O. P.


THE TIME: edging past midnight.

The place: a suburban neighborhood where a quarter moon casts pale light across sleepy trees, tailored lawns, and darkened houses; the camera that is our mind’s eye floats past these houses until it comes to rest on a window lit from within… which happens to be your window.

We now drift closer, where we find… me (aka Robert Crais, the coeditor of this book, along with the esteemed Otto Penzler) and author of this introduction), giggling like a goblin in the midnight shadows beneath the eaves of your roof, hanging in the darkness as I peer with cat-slit eyes into your bedroom. (Creepy, yeah, but not for deviant criminal purposes!)

I am watching you read this book.

I am giggling because you have plunked down hard cash for this book (maybe because my name is attached!), and I am having a blast and a half watching you enjoy this wonderful collection of short stories.

Because, good readers, this book is all about you enjoying yourselves and finding new authors to love, else my name would not be on it.

Short stories were my first love. Though I have published eighteen novels at this point in time, I began as a writer of short fiction and dearly love the form. For one, short stories are short. Poe famously defined a short story as a story one could read in a single sitting. I’m not sure that that is necessarily the case, but most of us can suck up a three-thousand-word short story in a sitting, and do, and that is part of the fun. You get the beginning, the middle, and the payoff all in a sing ...

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