This year’s look at what Penzler calls the “extremes of human behavior caused by despair, hate, greed, fear, envy, insanity, or love—sometimes in combination.”
Although their behavior may be extreme, most of the stories’ characters are pretty ordinary folk. A museum worker forms an attachment to a prisoner in Rebecca McKanna’s “Interpreting American Gothic.” Teachers behave badly in Joyce Carol Oates’ “The Archivist” and Robert Hinderliter’s “Coach O.” A real estate agent has evil intentions in Mark Mayer’s “The Clown.” A dog walker learns the consequences of punching above his weight in Suzanne Proulx’s “If You Say So.” One runaway bride flees to Ireland in Anne Therese Macdonald’s “That Donnelly Crowd,” and a second is shaken by finding an abducted child in Amanda Rea’s “Faint of Heart.” Family conflict remains popular. A father and daughter learn the consequences of spending custodial visits pretending to be home buyers in Reed Johnson’s “Open House.” A divorced mother struggles to control her teenage daughter in Jennifer McMahon’s “Hannah-Beast.” A family of Europeans has a bad habit of drowning in Sharon Hunt’s “The Keeper of All Sins.” A black-sheep uncle attempts to console his grieving nephew in Brian Panowich’s “A Box of Hope.” And a widow tries to save her family from an invading army in Ron Rash’s “Neighbors.” No cops (one ex-cop haunts the subway in Arthur Klepchukov’s “A Damn Fine Town”), one robber (the hero of Robb T. White’s “Inside Man”). Leaning more on Freud than Conan Doyle, Lethem’s 20 selections highlight the angst of the everyday.
A bonanza for fans of psychological suspense but a dud for devotees of detection.