The 12th annual edition of this anthology, whose general editor is Otto Penzler, collects 20 blue-ribbon entries, all dressed up in impeccable noir.
In his introduction, Pelecanos calls the stories that make up the collection “wonderful,” and it’s true that the quality of the prose is unfailingly high. That’s no surprise, for the names are stellar: James Lee Burke, Michael Connelly, S.J. Rozan and, from outside the genre, Alice Munro and Joyce Carol Oates. These people can write. Unless you’re a hardcore fan, 400 pages of unremitting, unrelenting noir can be daunting, particularly to worldviews on the fragile side. But you’ll go a long way to find a story more moving and, yes, more unsettling than Hugh Sheehy’s “The Invisibles,” about what it means, and how it hurts, to be socially invisible. As the invisible 17-year-old heroine suggests, it’s one of the ways serial killers are made. “Proof of God,” Holly Goddard Jones’s story about love gone disastrously wrong, manages to be at once ugly, brutal and deeply affecting. In Elizabeth Strout’s poignant, painful “A Different Road,” the aftermath of a hostage situation proves as destructive as the experience itself. And so it goes—a journey that will leave some readers delighted, others depressed, and most a little bit of both.
An eminently worthwhile collection, though perhaps not for those prone to Weltschmerz.