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In Praise of Shorter Works

October 3, 2008

This week and next provide great boons for lovers of short mystery fiction. First up is the latest installment of The Best American Mystery Stories, guest edited this year by George Pelecanos, with the tremendous help of series editor Otto Penzler and his colleague, Michele Slung. In addition to some of the big names in contemporary crime writing — James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, and S.J. Rozan, for example — the collection also features as unlikely a name as Alice Munro (proving yet again that the divide some people see between so-called “high literature” and “genre fiction” isn’t quite as wide as one might think). The book’s official pub date is next week, but mine arrived early from Amazon. Notably, several of this year’s selections (four, in fact) are drawn from some of the many Noir anthologies published by Akashic Books; coincidentally four of the stories from last year’s Best American Mystery Stories were also drawn from those books — pointing the way to other great short story collections for readers to explore.

Another of the stories from last year’s Best American Mystery Stories, Laura Lippman’s “One True Love,” will be republished in Lippman’s own new collection of shorter works, Hardly Knew Her, due in stores early next week as well (and featuring an introduction by Pelecanos, who’s really getting around these days when it comes to short fiction collections, given this book, the one above, and the new D.C. Noir 2: The Classics). Fans of Lippman’s “One True Love” will be glad to see that main character Heloise, a D.C. madam and suburban soccer mom, returns in a never-before-published novella-length piece, “Scratch a Woman,” written especially for this collection. The book’s release is timed in conjunction with this year’s Bouchercon, which takes begins October 9 in Lippman’s hometown of Baltimore, but while most stories take place there, others stretch out across the country and even as far away as Dublin. (Please also note that Lippman’s novella “The Girl in the Green Raincoat” is in the midst of being serialized in the New York Times Magazine.)

Finally, I just received the December issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, notable for a couple of reasons. First (and most obviously upon picking it up), the magazine has received a slight expansion — taller by 5/16 of an inch and wider by 5/8 of an inch — for more dramatic presentation of the pulp art covers, greater open space and enhanced readability inside the covers, according to editor Janet Hutchings. The second thing that’s notable here? This issue features the last original story that Edward D. Hoch wrote for EQMM — “The Alexandrian Solution” — the culmination of more than 35 years of unbroken publication in the magazine. Hoch’s stories aren’t gone completely from these pages, because future issues will includes stories that appeared elsewhere. But this last exclusive one here stands as a capstone piece and a fitting way for the magazine to round out its year.

— Art Taylor

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