The Best American Mystery Stories 2019

Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. (Best American). Oct. 2019. 352p. ed. by Jonathan Lethem & Otto Penzler. ISBN 9781328636096. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781328636119. M
Compiled by guest editor Lethem (The Feral Detective), this latest installment of the “Best American” series again lives up to its title. Penzler (Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection) states in his introduction that “the psychology of crime has become the dominant form of mystery fiction in recent years” and the works in this 23rd volume exemplify that trend. These stories are more “whydunit?” than the traditional “whodunit?” and all the more chilling for it. Several entries, notably Jennifer McMahon’s “Hannah-Beast,” Mark Mayer’s “The Clown,” and Robert Hinderliter’s “Coach O,” provide glimpses into the psyches of murderers as they fall over the edge between dreaming and doing. With the exception of the Civil War–set “Neighbors” by Ron Rash, the selections focus on the dark underbelly of the late 20th and early 21st century. All feature American protagonists, but the exceptional “Walk-In” by Harley Jane Kozak centers on an American in London faced with an assassin using Sherlock Holmes’s techniques as well as subterfuge and poison to get the job done. Pieces by perennial favorites including Anne Therese Macdonald, Suzanne Proulx, Duane Swierczynski, Ted White, and Joyce Carol Oates round out the collection.
VERDICT Recommended for readers of psychological mysteries and thrillers as well as genre aficionados seeking the standout stories of the year.
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