A few weeks back, Barry and I planned a sort of experiment. This book would be the first book we both would read and review. With our differing styles, the reviews should complement each other as well as cover the book in different ways. I got my copy from Dave Zeltserman and Barry obtained his from Bill Crider.
While we both had the book at the same time, Barry easily beat me in reading and reviewing it. In fact, Barry's review originally ran here back on May 9. I am slower on everything these days. I finally finished the book late last week and started working on the review. Barry's review runs again after mine.
The bottom line is we both like the book very much......
Featuring 13 stories by twelve authors this anthology released as an e-book features a lot of variety in the tales. These previously published stories take place in a variety of settings with tremendously different themes and writing styles. Because of the variety there should be several stories that will please any reader.
Max Allen Collins opens the book with “Unreasonable Doubt.” Nathan Heller is in Los Angeles in 1947 and is supposed to be on vacation. It isn’t a vacation very long as he is pulled into the Overell case. Like many a dad before him, Walter E. Overell does not want to see his daughter marry a guy dad is sure is bad news. What he needs is proof. He wants Nathan Heller and his partner Fred Rubinski to get the goods on the guy so that Walter Overell can prove to his daughter the guy only wants her for the family money.
Bill Crider follows with his noir tale, “Death’s Brother.” Sometimes the professor just has to help his student outside of the classroom. Professor Jon Cline certainly intends to help. The money will be nice too.
In possibly the most disturbing story of the book Stephen Gallager tells the tale of a lonely only child seeking friends to play with as well as escape from his overbearing parents in “Poisoned.” The surrounding English countryside has numerous dangers, many of them man made. Dylan’s attempts to fit in with the neighborhood kids are a recipe for disaster that will rock many parents.
Book signings bring out all kinds and doing one at an area K-Mart in Spokane, Washington may not be the best idea in “Remaindered.” Written by Lee Golberg, this story features author Kevin Dangler who has been written off by everyone as a one hit wonder. Desperate times call for desperate measures as he meets possibly his biggest fan.
Seventeen year old Bobby Staley wants just one thing out of God – he wants to see Elizabeth Bumiller naked in the beginning of “Fire in the Sky” by Joel Goldman. This Depression Era story has nothing to do with Mr. Goldman’s series featuring trial lawyer Lou Mason or FBI Special Agent Jack Davis. Still, the story is a good one and features genetics and destiny at work.
“The Baby Store” by Ed Gorman tackles a subject familiar to science fiction readers – the quest to have the perfect baby. For Kevin McKay, in light of recent events, that quest is particularly upsetting but his fellow lawyers don’t see the pain they cause by bragging on their own kids. Designer kids are the new fad for the wealthy and powerful and they just don’t care what other folks think. While Kevin is getting ready to design another child, his wife may not be.
“The Jade Elephant Plant” by Libby Fischer Hellman is the tale of a green jade elephant sitting in a pawnshop window and repercussions. It may not be a doggie in the window but Gus needs it just the same. Too bad he originally stole it six months ago.
“The Big O” by Vicki Hendricks is not the kind of story the title implies. Or, maybe it is depending on how your mind works. Either way, this tale of a woman trying to start over somewhere on the shores of Lake Okeechobee is a good one. Taking her one-year-old son, Chance, and running seemed like a good idea to Candy. But, running did not change who she is and old habits are very hard to break in this hard hitting story.
Naomi Hirahara contributes “The Chirashi Covenant” set just after World War Two. Racism against Japanese Americans is a major issue and serves as a backdrop to this intriguing story. A chance meeting might change the lives of Helen and her husband Frank forever.
“El Valiente En El Inferno” (The Brave One In Hell) written by Paul Levine describes the terror Victor Castillo, thirteen years old, faces trying to get across the border into the US. Part of a group that is intercepted by two Americans bent on preventing illegals from crossing while also having some twisted fun at their expense, it is up to Victor to save himself and others.
Harry Shannon takes readers to his home state of Nevada in “A Handful of Dust.” It takes Pike the better part of the night to drive to a bar in a barely still alive town in the high desert. The bug zapper on the porch of the bar is not the only thing that kills---just the most obvious.
“The Canary” by Dave Zeltserman is billed as “This is a simple crime story featuring a thief and a canary. Make that two canaries.” Not to argue with the author but it is also a story about a very simple truth that stretches from the lowest place on Earth to the penthouse and every stop in between. Plans for success—no matter the endeavor—are always ruined by incompetent help.
The final story of the anthology is the round robin story the original members of the Top Suspense Group created and published last year. Each member wrote 250 words and sent the evolving story on to the next writer. No polishing, editing, planning, etc. was allowed as the growing story made its way through the group twice. The very good result was titled “The Chase” and fittingly concludes the book.
Read by way of the free Kindle for PC program, this strong and wide ranging anthology is available in a variety of e-book formats. It showcases the work of some of the best crime/mystery writers in the game today. Full of rich characters and lots of twists that you will not see coming, the reads contained in this book are good ones.
TOP SUSPENSE: 13 CLASSIC STORIES BY 12 MASTERS OF THE GENRE
Edited by Dave Zeltserman
198 Pages (includes author bios)
Material supplied by Dave Zeltserman in exchange for my objective review.
Kevin R. Tipple © 2011
TOP SUSPENSE: 13 Classic Stories by 12 Masters of the Genre
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
I suspect many readers feel as I do about most anthologies, genres notwithstanding, and find them uneven as to the quality of the stories they contain. Some stories are superb, others mediocre. Some make you wonder how and why they made it into the book at all.
Top Suspense proved to be an exception to that generality. An anthology from a group of some of today’s finest practitioners in the mystery/suspense field (see http://topsuspensegroup.com/index.php), each of the stories it contains is an engrossing read. There is plenty of variety here, each story being very different from its companions. With the caveat that several of them contain crude language, vivid violence, and graphic sex, and thus might disturb some sensibilities, here’s the lineup:--
In Max Allan Collins’s “Unreasonable Doubt,” Chicago P.I. Nate Heller, president of the A-1 Detective Agency, while vacationing in California visits his partner Fred Rubinski and ends up taking on a case Fred is too busy to handle himself--a case based partly on fact, as Collins explains in an afterword, involving the strong-willed teenaged daughter of a wealthy couple, the girl’s gold-digging boyfriend, and a vicious double murder.
Bill Crider’s story “Death’s Brother” finds a middle-aged professor of Romantic literature engaged in some extracurricular activity with a beautiful young student: extra-legal, extra-lethal activity.
Forbidden to leave the garden without telling his mother, Dylan nevertheless sneaks off to play with some neighborhood children who take him to an industrial area beneath a country park, a trip that has serious consequences, in Stephen Gallagher’s “Poisoned.”
“Remaindered,” Lee Goldberg’s darkly comic inverted detective story, concerns a writer desperate to revive a flagging career who meets an ardent--and amorous--fan at a book signing, who invites the writer to see her collection of signed first editions, among other things. The writer’s wife is hundreds of miles away and never needs to know. Where’s the harm? It won’t kill anybody--right?
Seventeen-year-old Bobby Staley, lusting after a young woman slightly older than he, bargains with God to see her naked. Thirty-four-year-old Vivian Chase, on the run from an accomplice after half a lifetime of robberies and seeking repentance, wants only to take care of the needs of the teenaged daughter she left in the care of another years before. Their paths converge in Joel Goldberg’s potent “Fire in the Sky.”
“The Baby Store” may at first seem out of place in an anthology of stories focused on crime and mystery, but Ed Gorman’s offbeat tale of a competitive future in which prospective parents can literally design their children ultimately deals with crime on a personal and, some readers will probably believe, a societal scale.
In Libby Fischer Hellmann’s “The Jade Elephant,” a professional burglar’s conscience is piqued after he gets some good news from a doctor but learns that one of his former marks has a serious medical problem. Wanting to make amends, he must contend with a partner who is a great deal less sensitive to the needs of others, and with a very determined fence.
Maternal and murderous instincts drive the protagonist in Vicki Hendricks’ raw, explicit, and ironic“The Big O”--a woman seeking a perverse kind of redemption for the sake of her year-old son, who must contend with his abusive father from whom she’s fled, the drug-dealing abusive lover she accepts solely to have a place to live, and a hurricane that’s both literal and symbolic.
Depicting the lingering anti-Japanese sentiment that permeated southern California in 1951, Naomi Hirahara’s “The Chirashi Covenant” tells the story of a Japanese-American woman who longs to sell the house she shares with her husband, daughter, and mother-in-law in a Japanese enclave , and find a new home closer to the ocean. Her quest leads to infidelity, tragedy, and revenge.
The narrator of Paul Levine‘s “El Valiente En El Infierno (The Brave One in Hell)” is Victor Castillo, a thirteen-year-old Mexican boy who, along with others--among them a pregnant Honduran girl--is attempting a midnight border crossing into California. He wants to get to his Aunt Luisa in Ocotillo. She’ll help him get to Minnesota so he can join his father and older brothers. A couple of vigilantes from the Patriot Patrol have other ideas.
Another story that takes place in the desert, this one in Nevada, is Harry Shannon’s tense and memorable “A Handful of Dust,” in which a hit man named Pike meets and confers with a bizarre prospective client who has an even more bizarre request.
Because of his partner’s ineptitude, a thief must bid on a painting from an auction house because its frame conceals the key to a storage locker containing three hundred thousand dollars he and the partner stole. In Dave Zeltserman’s fast-paced “The Canary,” the problem is that someone else is bidding, too.
“The Chase” is the thirteenth and final story in the anthology. It’s a round-robin effort, as explained in a prefatory note: “Each member wrote 250 words and sent it on to the next until it had gone around twice. No planning, re-writing or polishing allowed.” For this reason it’s the weakest story of the lot--but saying so is akin to fruitlessly debating who’s stronger, Superman or the Hulk. Whatever “The Chase” lacks in comparison with the individually written tales that precede it, it makes up for in nearly non-stop action. Like its predecessors, it will hook and hold readers.
If the authors represented in Top Suspense are among the kings and queens of their genre, these stories are jewels for their respective crowns. Hghly recommended.
Barry Ergang (c) 2011