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Mystery: The Best Of 2001
edited by Jon L. Breen
iBooks paperback £5.99

review by Debbie Moon

This compact volume contains 15 crime stories, culled from many of the best magazines and anthologies imaginable. Ranging from hardboiled losers in neon-lit bars to English ladies discussing foul crimes over afternoon tea, it provides a good overview of mainstream crime writing.
   The private eye story has long been a staple of the genre. In Oh, Mona, Dan A. Sproul takes us into the murky world of Miami horseracing, weaving together the stories of a dead seductress, a bail-jumper, and a lucky ticket. In contrast, Dorothy Cannell's Bridal Flowers shows the genteel Misses Tramwell, detectives, smoothing the path of true love. Mrs Smith-Hoggles proposes to stop her daughter's marriage because the young man's grandfather was suspected of murder. Can they exonerate him, and free Emily from her domineering mother? A witty confection of upper class manners, it provides a lighter moment among the mayhem.
   Detectives in uniform are well represented, too. Open And Shut by Benjamin M. Schutz brings a disgraced cop back to a fatal shooting inquiry, delving deep into the problems of inner city policing in the process. Carolyn Wheat and Dana Stabenow present lawyers and judges turning cop when faced with unpalatable evidence; the latter regrettably makes little of its unusual setting, and its low-key ending makes it one of the weaker contributions. The best of the bunch is Loren D. Estleman's Evil Grows, a slick, entrancing story of an undercover cop who finds he is spreading corruption everywhere he goes.
   Of course, amateurs can play detective too. The San Agustin Miracle by Edward D. Hoch, presents an unusual impossible murder in the Wild West, and in Marianne Wilski Strong's atmospheric The Honored Guest, a family secret is unravelled by a girl's admiration for a stranger. In the deceptively domestic Whistle, David Dean sets a dog lover on a collision course with fate. Dogs are going missing all round the neighbourhood, and the only clue is an odd nocturnal whistling. The solution is far stranger, and far more shocking, than it first appears...
   Then, of course, there are the murderers themselves, and their victims. Like the aged, cunning heroine of Joan Hess' Miss Tidwell Takes No Prisoners, or the mother worn away by sleepless nights in Laura Philpot Benedict's disturbingly plausible The Hollow Woman. Or the old couple who are driven to distraction, and then to a new career, by each other in James Powell's darkly humorous Honeydew Wine.
   Almost demanding a category of its own, Mat Coward's Tomorrow's Villain takes an incisive look at the media obsession with race, sex, and murder. An ordinary man is feted for stoically enduring the death of his daughter and the subsequent investigation. He's even voted Man of the Year in a national poll. As he says, "I was the Man of the Year for having lost my daughter. If I'd had two daughters, and they'd both been killed, would I have been elected Pope?" But public opinion is fickle - and when he becomes convinced that the (black) man jailed for the murder is innocent, the press turns against him with devastating fury. Bitter and honest, it's the most daring, and probably the best, piece here.
   Overall, this is an absorbing and varied collection that represents tremendous value for money. Settle down for an evening's enjoyment - but check your coffee for arsenic first, and make sure all the lights are on...
Mystery: The Best Of 2001
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