The headline news in the fourth installment of this annual series (interrupted last year by The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century) is the relative absence of headliners; even editor Block admits that before reading their entries, he’d never heard of two-thirds of the contributors. Newcomers to the mystery fold include Thomas Lynch (the sad backstory of a young woman killed by her husband), Michael Downs (a prison cook worries about the violence growing in her son as she prepares a convict’s last meal), Nathan Walpow (a bullying pro wrestler gets his), John Salter (the harrowing world of a Paiute prostitute), and Roxana Robinson (who doesn’t think her reminiscence of Central American terrorism qualifies as a crime story). Despite contributions by such genre stalwarts as Peter Robinson, Clark Howard, Bill Pronzini, Jeremiah Healy, T. Jefferson Parker, and the ubiquitous Joyce Carol Oates, this year’s volume testifies to the narrowing of the border between the Whodunit of the traditional mystery story and the Whatscoming of literary short fiction; practically all the stories get their charge from a sense of violence threatened rather than accomplished. Authors most successful at balancing literary pleasures against those specific to the mystery genre are Jennifer Anderson (a lifetime of disillusionment squeezed into a month as a probationary cop), Steve Hockensmith (a retiring officer’s last day on the job), and Russell Banks (a tango for lobsters, bears, and humans).
Proof that virtually any short story qualifies as a mystery if you want to read it that way.