If 2000 was, on the evidence of Gorman and Greenberg’s previous behemoth, a banner year for crime fiction, 2001 was, as baseball managers say, a “building year.” At least this year’s annual shows no clear sense of direction (the seven prefaces surveying the year in mystery fiction around the world amount to little more than cheerleading and lists) and no star entries. The keynote instead is professional proficiency, from S.J. Rozan’s trap for a Chinatown con man to Clark Howard’s race to stop a hit in Disneyland to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blind date turned stalker to Lawrence Block’s fable-like riffs on greed. Like Otto Penzler (p. 1177), Gorman and Greenberg have cherry-picked other anthologies (though not, unlike Penzler, anthologies they edited), plucking four reliables from The Mysterious Press Anniversary Anthology, three from Death by Horoscope, and two each from Malice Domestic 10, Women Before the Bench, Murder Through the Ages, and Murder in Baker Street. The most offbeat offerings are four German short-shorts (their translators unbilled) by Wolfgang Burger, Stephan Rykena, Billie Rubin, and Tatjana Kruse; the closest thing to a trend is new takes on classic tales (Edward D. Hoch turns “The Yellow Wallpaper” into an impossible disappearance, Lauren Henderson remakes the film noir The Dark Mirror, Carolyn Wheat and Carolyn Hart both have a crack at Strangers on a Train), and the more general tendency to pour a novel’s worth of experience into a short story (Joseph Hansen, Brendan DuBois, Joyce Carol Oates).
Thirty-nine stories that are consistently fine, though not superfine.