This year’s collection of two dozen new stories by members of the Crime Writers' Association (Guilty Consciences, 2012, etc.) shows just how far familiar recipes will take the contributors—and when they need to go the extra mile.
Take the familiar tale of the murderer passing on a criminal legacy to a more-or-less unsuspecting accomplice. Ricki Thomas and L.C. Tyler both develop this story generationally; Laura Wilson, making her crook and his legatee about the same age, finds something deeper in it. Bernie Crosthwaite, Kate Ellis and Peter Lovesey all avail themselves of a famous cliché indelibly associated with Agatha Christie, but Lovesey’s sly tale of murder in a monastery is the most successful of the three for reasons that have nothing to do with the cliché. Carol Anne Davis, Jane Finnis, Kate Rhodes, Yvonne Eve Walus and Paul Freeman all tackle the demanding form of the short-short story— Freeman’s Chaucerian pastiche is written in verse, Finnis’ entry is only two pages—and all but Freeman’s pack quite a punch. As their titles indicate, Phil Lovesey’s “The Last Guilty Party,” Ragnar Jónasson’s “Party of Two” and Paul Johnston’s “All Yesterday’s Parties” use a series of reunions to dramatize the disastrous declines of their characters; Lovesey and Jónasson produce highly finished anecdotes, Johnston, in the best story here, a fable so drastically compressed that it moves off to entirely more original territory. Originality also seems to be a matter of degree (the third degree, presumably) rather than a got-it-or-doesn’t quality in the contributions by John Harvey, Christopher Fowler, Frances Brody, N.J. Cooper, Judith Cutler, Christine Poulson, Chris Simms, C.L. Taylor, Aline Templeton and editor Edwards.
Though Johnston’s story is the standout, the others are never less than professional and surprisingly varied, even when they’re working the very same conventions.