The Best American Mystery Stories 2003

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Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads pieces from hundreds of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred outstanding works. That selection is pared down to twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who is widely recognized as a leading writer in his or her field. This unique system has helped make the Best American ...
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Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads pieces from hundreds of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred outstanding works. That selection is pared down to twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who is widely recognized as a leading writer in his or her field. This unique system has helped make the Best American series the most respected -- and most popular -- of its kind.
This seventh installment of the premier mystery anthology boasts pulse-quickening stories from all reaches of the genre, selected by the world-renowned mystery writer Michael Connelly. His choices include a Prohibition-era tale of a scorned lover's revenge, a Sherlock Holmesinspired mystery solved by an actor playing the famous detective onstage, stories of a woman's near-fatal search for self-discovery, a bar owner's gutsy attempt to outwit the mob, and a showdown between double-crossing detectives, and a tale of murder by psychology. This year's edition features mystery favorites as well as talented up-and-comers, for a diverse colleciton sure to thrill all readers.

James Crumley Pete Dexter Brendan DuBois Elmore Leonard Walter Mosley Joyce Carol Oates

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Is it possible to publish an anthology of mystery stories without including Joyce Carol Oates? Apparently not, as series editor Otto Penzler says in his foreword to this outstanding compendium: "She has appeared in six of the seven annual volumes.... Nobody makes it into these books based on their fame or popularity, and she is no different. It is about the work, and she simply will not be denied." Oates's "The Skull," a richly mordant, Poe-ish tale of a forensic scientist obsessed with the head bones of a murder victim, might not be the best of the 20 stories, but it's certainly right up there. Other brand names working at their peak include George P. Pelecanos ("The Dead Their Eyes Implore Us") and Scott Phillips ("Sockdolager"), both of whom probe the roots of characters from their respective novels. Writers who deserve to be more famous, like Doug Allyn, O'Neill de Noux and Monica Wood, bring fresh insights to familiar material. By far the oddest entry is Tyler Dilts's "Thug: Signification and the (De) Construction of Self," which manages to combine an essay on deconstruction, complete with footnotes, with an entertaining crime story. As guest editor Connelly says in his introduction, if a novel is an SUV, a short story is a sports car. "I drove seven SUVs before I ever tried a sports car," he admits. "I found the difference amazing." Readers should share that amazement. (Oct. 10) FYI: Each year Michelle Slung, the primary preliminary reader, does the initial winnowing from 1,000-1,200 stories, Penzler picks 50, then the guest editor comes up with the final 20. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618329656
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/10/2003
  • Series: Best American Mystery Stories Series
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,559,729
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael  Connelly

OTTO PENZLER is a renowned mystery editor, publisher, columnist, and owner of New York's The Mysterious Bookshop, the oldest and largest bookstores solely dedicated to mystery fiction. He has edited more than fifty crime-fiction anthologies.
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    1. Hometown:
      Sarasota, Florida
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 21, 1956
    2. Place of Birth:
      Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Journalism, University of Florida, 1980
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt


I drive a two-seater. It’s a drop-top sports car built low to the ground for better control and handling. All right, it’s an automatic with a pushbutton, electronic top. But that’s not the point. The point is that when the top’s down and I’m sailing through the curves along the bay, the wind cutting in behind my shades, I can’t think of a better car to be in. Sure, it’s so small, I can’t fit more than one suitcase into it. But again, that’s not the point. The point is performance and beauty. In a word, velocity.
The point is this is why I love the short story. Velocity. Room for one suitcase only. The short story deals with issues and themes large and small. But it does it succinctly and quickly. The short story is a car for the short track. Put the top down and power into the curves. If you’re going a long distance, get yourself a novel. Take the freeway and get yourself an SUV.
I drove seven SUVs before I ever tried a sports car. I found the difference amazing. You have to dig in to write a novel. You have to cover all the angles. You need a trunk big enough to carry a lot of baggage and extra supplies. Conversely, the short story is lean and mean and built low to the ground. Its ideas burn on high-test. They are spare and to the point.
What happened to me happened to many novelists I know. You push a few books out there, get them on the shelf, and get a bit of notice. Then comes the big question: “Have you ever thought about a short story?” One thing leads to another, and you leave the big car in the garage, and you’re out running around in a candy-apple-red sports car. It’s fun. It’s a change of pace. Nine out of ten doctors recommend it.
In these same pages last year James Ellroy said he wrote his first short story only to pay off a debt. After that, he repeatedly returned to the short form. Me, too. In fact, my guess is that the debt I paid with my first short story was to the same guy — but that’s another story. The point is I reluctantly tried it and then liked it. I ended up happy for the coercive genesis of it. I got hooked. I found the short story gave me balance. Elements of character and action and intrigue were all there. But in a spare form I found invigorating. I like the short story because you can conceive and complete in hours or weeks instead of months or years. It is a form I am sure I will always come back to. It has become part of how I evaluate and then execute my ideas as a writer.
This is not by any means to say that the short story is the easier road to take. The novel and the short story are simply different animals. Or, I should say, beasts. In the spare style of the short story is the bedrock philosophy of less is more. This makes the labor over each paragraph, each sentence, intensely important. Every word must count in the short story, so the pressure of the writing experience is ratcheted down tightly on the author.
What you have here in this collection are the examples in which the author has met that pressure and come out with a beauty. Each one of these stories has a well-tuned machine under the hood.
What I have tried to do here is put together a collection that showcases the power of the short story. These stories run from the traditional to the experimental, from deadly serious to deadly satirical, from established writing masters to voices I am betting you have not heard before but will likely hear again.
Each story is a sports car that handles superbly as it takes you to a destination you haven’t been to before. Pay attention to the nuances of the ride, the telling details of character and place and emotion and experience. Watch the way a man struggles with language and a new country, the way a man sees his long-lost daughter in the reconstructed face of a murder victim. The way a woman extracts justice after being betrayed. On and on. The way you never know how somebody is going to act or react.
These aren’t shiny sports cars. No way. There is a lot of road grit on these pages. There is violence and betrayal and justice meted out without the benefit of the justice system. There is also sympathy and hard-edged romance and a haunting sense of hope. I think that is why the mystery story is so important. It can carry all the ingredients, even if the car will hold only one suitcase.
We live in uncertain times. And as I write this it looks as if they are only going to become more uncertain. The mystery story is no antidote. But it certainly can act to reassure, to help make some sense of the world. Maybe only in a small way, but that is still better than in no way.
So let’s begin. Time to take a ride. You are in luck here. I think you will find everything you are looking for in these pages. —Michael Connelly

Copyright © 2003 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Introduction copyright © 2003 by Michael Connelly. Repriintedddd by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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Table of Contents

Contents Foreword • ix Introduction by Michael Connelly • xiii

Doug Allyn The Jukebox King • 1

Christopher Chambers Aardvark to Aztec • 22

Christopher Cook The Pickpocket • 34

John Peyton Cooke After You’ve Gone • 47

James Crumley Hostages • 62

O’neil de Noux Death on Denial • 68

Pete Dexter The Jeweler • 80

Tyler Dilts Thug: Signi.cation and the (De) Construction of Self • 88

Mike Doogan War Can Be Murder • 96

Brendan Dubois Richard’s Children • 115

Elmore Leonard When the Women Come Out to Dance • 137

Robert McKee The Confession • 150

Walter Mosley Lavender • 169

Joyce Carol Oates The Skull • 199

George P. Pelecanos The Dead Their Eyes Implore Us • 215

Scott Phillips Sockdolager • 231

Daniel Stashower The Adventure of the Agitated Actress • 250

Hannah Tinti Home Sweet Home • 270

Scott Wolven Controlled Burn • 289

Monica Wood That One Autumn • 299

Contributors’ Notes • 315 Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2002 • 327

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 1, 2015

    I read every day and find it difficult at times, to find good st

    I read every day and find it difficult at times, to find good stories that hold my interest.  So must say I'm quite delighted with this 2003 volume
    of the best American mystery stories series. I purchased it during Christmas shopping at B&N and am definitely going back for the other
    years. Thank you Otto Penzler and Michael Connelly for making me excited about reading the additional books in this series.

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  • Posted May 26, 2010

    This can't be the Best!

    This set of short story mysteries is better described as a collection of crime short stories. There was very little mystery involved. There's a good collection of hard-core and less cozy of the genre. At times, I felt as though I was reading more pornography than mystery (see Sockdolager by Scott Phillips) without any mystery involvement. There are two good stories of mention Richard's Children by Brendan DuBois, a mystery involving the conspiracy theories behind JFK and RFK's murders linked to Richard the 3rd of England's murderous notoriety and War Can Be Murder by Mike Doogan, a short story involving Dashiell Hammett's time in the US army in Alaska during WWII. Two of the stories can be considered "good", one fair and the other poor. This certainly can't be the "Best Mystery Shorts"!

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