The year’s top 20 mystery stories offer a variety of delights, not the least of which are what Penny calls their “brilliant...

THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2018

The bestselling author of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache adventures selects this year’s outstanding short mystery fiction in the 22nd entry in Otto Penzler’s long-running series.

Penny, who writes only full-length novels, marvels at the compactness of short stories. And the stories she selects as the year’s best are, in her own words, “lean, muscular, graceful.” Even the longest have a clean, unitary narrative arc. In “Too Much Time,” Lee Child offers one more glimpse of Jack Reacher, whose offer to give the police a statement about a botched mugging he’s witnessed leads like a set of cascading dominoes to increasing peril. Alyce, the naïve college student in Joyce Carol Oates’ “Phantomwise: 1972,” finds herself caught in a web of events more mundane than Reacher’s but just as terrifying. These two stories, though compact, occupy more than 20 percent of the real estate here. David H. Hendrickson’s “Death in the Serengeti” chronicles a ranger’s battle with rhino poachers in Tanzania. Martin Limón’s “PX Christmas” pits GIs against human traffickers during the Korean War. And in Brian Silverman’s “Breadfruit,” the owner of a Caribbean watering hole is puzzled to find two examples of the island’s homely culinary staple sitting on his bar one morning. But some of the most poignant stories are set closer to home. Michael Connelly’s “The Third Panel” is set in an abandoned model home stranded in the desert outside Lancaster, California, and Louis Bayard’s “Banana Triangle Six,” in a single room of a nursing home; both offer a chilling look at people overpowered by their own misguided choices.

The year’s top 20 mystery stories offer a variety of delights, not the least of which are what Penny calls their “brilliant marriage of intellect, rational thought, and creativity.”

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-544-94909-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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POP GOES THE WEASEL

After a flight in fantasy with When the Wind Blows (1998), Patterson goes to ground with another slash-and-squirm psychokiller page-turner, this one dedicated to “the millions of Alex Cross readers, who so frequently ask, can’t you write faster?” By day, Geoffrey Shafer is a charming, 42-year-old British Embassy paper-pusher with a picture-perfect family and a shady past as an MI-6 secret agent. Come sundown, he swallows a pharmacy of psychoactive pills, gulps three black coffees loaded with sugar, and roams the streets of Washington, D.C., in a battered cab, where, disguised as a black man, he rolls dice to determine which among his black female fares he—ll murder. Afterwards he dumps his naked victims in crime-infested back alleys of black- slum neighborhoods, then sends e-mails boasting of his accomplishments to three other former MI-6 agents involved in a hellish Internet role-playing game. “I sensed I was at the start of another homicide mess,” sighs forensic-psychologist turned homicide-detective Alex Cross. Cross yearns to catch the “Jane Doe murderer” but is thwarted by Det. Chief George Pittman, who assigns sexy Det. Patsy Hampton to investigate Cross and come up with a reason for dismissing him. Meanwhile, Cross’s fiancÇe is kidnaped during a Bermuda vacation, and an anonymous e-mail warns him to back off. He doesn’t, of course, and just when it appears that Patterson is sleep-walking through his story, Cross nabs Shafer minutes after Shafer kills Det. Hampton. During the subsequent high-visibility trail, Shafer manages to make the jury believe that he’s innocent and that Cross was trying to frame him. When all seems lost, a sympathetic British intelligence chief offers to help Cross bring down Shafer, and the other homicidal game-players, during a showdown on the breezy beaches of Jamaica. Kinky mayhem, a cartoonish villain, regular glimpses of the kindly Cross caring for his loved ones, and an ending that spells a sequel: Patterson’s fans couldn’t ask for more.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 1999

ISBN: 0-316-69328-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1999

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