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The Best American Mystery Stories 2004

The Best American Mystery Stories 2004

by Nelson DeMille (Editor), Otto Penzler (Editor)

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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


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.
Assembled by best-selling suspense author Nelson DeMille, The Best American Mystery Stories 2004 contains a spectacular array of stories by mystery veterans and talented newcomers. Follow a chain reaction that saves a woman’s life, visit a house haunted by a husband’s violent killing spree, enter the high-stakes world of Las Vegas gambling, watch the line between reality and dream blur, travel with a bored salesman driven to crime, and much more. Encompassing all aspects of the genre, this year’s selections are sure to quicken pulses, send chills down the spine, and keep readers continually guessing.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The eighth in Otto Penzler's popular series offers some fine writing, but mystery fans should be aware that the bulk of the entries amount to crime fiction. Out of the 20 stories from veteran bestsellers such as Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates, as well as promising newcomers, only one-William J. Carroll Jr.'s "Height Advantage"-is a whodunit. The standout is Christopher Coake's "All Through the House," a chilling, multilayered account of a family massacre whose shifting perspectives, flashbacks and flash-forwards create a moving, painful and haunting effect that lingers long after the last page. Sherlockians will be amused and intrigued by Richard Lupoff's clever pastiche of Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin, "The Incident of the Impecunious Chevalier," which features a young Holmes calling on his literary ancestor to track down a certain legendary jeweled black bird. Jeffrey Robert Bowman's "Stonewalls," with its alternative explanation of the cause of Gen. Stonewall Jackson's death from friendly fire, will appeal to Civil War buffs with its gritty and compelling perspective on the barbarities of war. Fans of suspenseful and psychologically rich tales of con men and low-level crooks will enjoy this volume; devotees of Agatha Christie and other authors in the classic mystery tradition should seek satisfaction elsewhere. Agent, Nat Sobel. (Oct. 14) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This eighth installment showcases short mysteries from the likes of Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeff Abbott, and Scott Wolven. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Best American Mystery Stories Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.12(d)

Read an Excerpt


As editor and introducer of The Best American Mystery Stories 2004, I bid you welcome.

You needn’t read any further, but may now go directly to the stories.
Still here? Well, then, I won’t take much of your time.

In the beginning was Otto Penzler, a legend in the field of mystery publishing, and a very persuasive gentleman. When Mr.
Penzler asked me to be the editor of this anthology, I explained that I wasn’t qualified to take on the task. He agreed, but in turn explained to me that his first and second choices had dropped out at the last minute, and I apparently owed him a favor.

Like many of my generation, I grew up on mystery short stories, devouring anthologies and collections as well as mystery magazines.

My favorite mystery stories, and probably everyone’s favorites, were Edgar Allan Poe, and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries.
The short story is a deceptively simple format, and the mystery shorts seem even simpler, until you try to write one.

Two of the first things I ever had published were mystery stories: one titled “Life or Breath,” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine; the other called “The Mystery at Thorn Mansion,” in the now-defunct Mystery Monthly.

I also have a file of rejection letters and enough unpublished short stories to kindle wet logs.

It became obvious to me that short stories are not easy to write just because they are short. Which takes me back to my high school days, when I was a sprinter on the track team. Anyone can run a hundred-yard dash, but the difference between doing it in 11 seconds or 10.2 seconds is the difference between last place and first place.

Obviously, when it came to writing, I wasn’t a sprinter, so I tried out for the long-distance team and became a novelist, which I found to be a lot easier.

The moral, if there is a moral, is that the short story, like the short race, needs to be close to perfect; there is no recovery from a bad start, no time to get a second wind, and no forgiveness for even one misstep.

And so, I am honored to have been chosen to pick the top twenty stories for this anthology, and to join a long and illustrious list of past editors whom I will mention here in the hope that future editors will mention me: Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, Ed McBain, Donald E. Westlake, Lawrence Block, James Ellroy, and Michael Connelly.

Those authors are themselves the best of the best, but I’m sure that they, like me, have trouble judging the works of others.
I am currently one of four judges for the Book-of-the-Month Club, along with Annie Proulx, Bill Bryson, and Anna Quindlen, and I can tell you that most authors would rather not be judges of other authors — I’d rather be a wine judge, or (ecstasy!) a beauty pageant judge.

So, when Otto Penzler asked me to pick the best twenty mystery stories from more than fifty entries, I was not being coy or humble when I said I was not qualified; I am actually qualified, I just don’t like to read with the knowledge that I’ve got to winnow and toss.
Newsday once asked me — and Susan Isaacs and Roger Rosenblatt — to judge essays and fiction pieces sent in by hundreds of readers on the topic of Long Island history. We had to pick one nonfiction and one fiction piece, and I can tell you, these were among the worst pieces of writing any of us had ever read. Thankfully, there were two or three pieces in each category that were good, so picking the winners was not that difficult.
But here we have a different situation; without exception all fifty mystery stories that I read were very good to excellent, and the difference in quality was like the difference between the 11-second hundred-yard dash — very impressive — and the 10.2-second hundred- yard dash — exceptional.

I had great fun reading, but not so much fun picking. In fact, it was agonizing, and I suggested to Otto Penzler a bigger, fatter book of, say, fifty of the Best American Mystery Stories.

“Not possible,” he said. “It would look like your last bloated novel.”

So, I went back to the stories, this time using a single criterion: Did I really want to reread this story?

Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are probably the only things I’ve read six, eight, or ten times each. I can pick up a collection of Sherlock Holmes anytime, anyplace, open at random, and enjoy the story as much as or even more than when I first read it.
So, for better or worse, without too much further agonizing, I have picked what I hope you agree are the Best American Mystery Stories for the 2004 edition.


AAnd try to pick the best five.

Nelson De Mille

Copyright © 2004 by Houghton Mifflin. Introduction copyright © 2004 by Nelson De Mille. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin

Meet the Author

OTTO PENZLER is a renowned mystery editor, publisher, columnist, and owner of New York's The Mysterious Bookshop, the oldest and largest bookstore solely dedicated to mystery fiction. He has edited more than fifty crime-fiction anthologies.

Brief Biography

Long Island, New York
Date of Birth:
August 22, 1943
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
B.A. in political science, Hofstra University, 1974

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