Promising debut for a new annual anthology, with 17 selections bearing out the editors’ contention that “crime, being human, runs along a continuum that steadily darkens.”
Edgar nominee Cook (Places in the Dark, 2000, etc.) and Mysterious Press founder Penzler have chosen entries of consistently high quality in a pleasing variety of tones and authorial stances. E. Jean Carroll’s “The Cheerleaders” (originally in Spin) depicts a bizarre string of murder, accident, and suicide that decimated the teenage girls of Dryden, New York; it’s one of several pieces here that capture the havoc crime wreaks upon domestic tranquility. Many essays first appeared in the New Yorker, including Pat Jordan’s “The Outcast,” an interview-based portrait of O.J. Simpson detailing both his cheesy Florida exile and his barely contained malevolence, and Peter Boyer’s “Bad Cops,” which addresses aspects of the LAPD Ramparts scandal. Selections from GQ and Details explore unsettling connections between violence and the culture of sport and hedonistic consumption, whether represented by football player Rae Carruth, who arranged a pregnant woman’s murder (Peter Richmond’s “Flesh and Blood”), or by an impoverished Texas woman who killed her children during a sex-and-drugs bender (Robert Draper’s “A Prayer for Tina Marie”). Other malefactors range from Oklahoma cockfighters and Israeli Ecstasy kingpins to a defrocked DEA agent and a serial killer/con artist. And there’s no shortage of provocatively expansive topics. In “The Chicago Crime Commission,” Robert Kurson portrays the last of the true believers fighting the once-feared “Outfit,” while William Langewiesche’s sobering explication of “The Crash of Egyptair 990” underscores the vast gulf between American and Arabic cultures. Of course, this is also the underlying story of Time editor Nancy Gibbs’s “The Day of the Attack,” which brings a necessary journalistic clarity to the recent horror of September 11, 2001, while focusing on its human toll.
Entertaining and edifying essays keep the reader mindful of the thin lines separating illicit temptation from criminal savagery.