The Best American Mystery and
anthology edited by Jess Walter, is not an easy book to review. While all the
tales in the book are good ones, some of the short stories are very dark and
grim. For this reader, some of the tales were very intense and disturbing as
they connected to things in my childhood. If I was not reading for review, I
would have quickly skipped those tales and moved on.
After a foreword by series editor Steph
Cha that includes the procedure to be considered for the 2033 anthology
(deadline 12/3/2022), and an intro by Jess Walter, it is on to the stories. The
stories are presented in alphabetical order by author name. Each tale has a
listing of where it originally appeared. Unfortunately, when a magazine is
listed, it does not include the month.
Hector Acosta leads off with “La Chingona.”
Developers have been buying up blocks of Spokane and they have gotten their
hands on Hope Apartments. Eviction is coming. Veronica’s only hope is to raise
funds via a web cam deal she is doing. Who would have thought wearing a certain
mask of a Mexican wrestler would make things so complicated?
62-year-old Henry Pearse is doing okay for
a man of his age in “Lucky Thirteen” by Tracy Clark. It is New Year’s Eve, the
streets and sidewalks are icy, and he is about to have a guest. A guest that
will be very interested in attending Henry’s celebration of the new year.
Hattie Mae wants out of her Daddy’s bar.
She wants a certain musician. She wants something else, something she can’t
actually quantify, in the powerful tale, An Ache So Divine by S. A. Cosby.
Mercedes Larza is sure that the boy given
her by border patrol is not her son. He looks and talks like him. He has the
same birthmark and mole cluster. But, she is sure he isn’t her son in
“Detainment” by Alex Espinoza.
As predicted, the man made his move once
the train rolled out of the station. How long will the voyeur wait to intercede
in “Here’s to New Friends” by Jacqueline Freimor is the question.
Todd Goldberg’s “A Career Spent Disappointing
People” comes next where it is July and Shane has a problem. Actually, more
than one. Not only is it too damn hot as he has to get gone from California,
the Honda he was driving has broken down. His swollen foot is a mess thanks to
the damage by the bullet. Nothing has been going right lately and things are
getting worse now by the minute.
Francis had been gone five days when the
police first arrive at the house in “The Very Last Time” by Juliet Grames. Mrs. Hatcher knows what happened. If she
explains, they will never believe her. That is the first of several problems
she has in this tale.
“The Wind” by Lauren Groff comes next in a
very hard to read story. A mother is determined to do everything she can to
save her children and get out of a horrible situation.
Barry is asleep when the guys get him in
“No Man’s Land” by James D. F. Hannah. Being the “Real Estate King of Long
Island” has had its perks, but winding up on a living room floor and getting
kicked everywhere including where no man ever wants to be kicked, is not one of
them. The real estate agent is in a world of trouble and not for what you might
think considering his occupation.
Lewis Binny’s classic juke box has been
stolen as “Return to Sender” by Gar Anthony Haywood begins. Obviously, Binny
wants it back. He also has an idea who might have stolen the classic machine,
but he is not going to tell that to the St. Louis County Sheriff’s deputy who
is taking the report.
Audrie McFadden and Abe had a plan to
supplement their income. Things are changing in Alaska. They have to move fast
to cash in on the future in “Harriet Point” by Leslie Jones.
Making a good mixed drink is a chemical
process. If you know what you are doing, you can make good ones. She likes to
make “Stingers” in this tale of the same name by LaToya Jovena.
Joe is enraged and justifiably so in “God
Bless America” by Elaine Kagan. Somebody keyed their cars. The cars were
outside on the street instead of in the full garage. Connie is too busy cooking
food for the holiday and thinking about the past which is stored in the garage.
Nathaniel buys letters in “A Bostonian (in
Cambridge)” by Dennis Lehane. He buys letters of rejection as the proprietor of
the Larchmont Antique Bookshop near Harvard. The reason he does is tied to his
childhood and gradually explained in this complicated story.
Carter got a job handing out flyers in
“Remediation” by Kristen Lepionka. In so doing, she saw a few things. She met
new people. One of whom changed her life forever.
The Girl Detective is dead. At least that
is what is posted on twitter. She does not feel dead. She has a lot to do. But,
as she looks, she notices that she can see right through her hand. She needs to
know in “Long Live the Girl Detective” by Megan Pillow.
Pugi likes to go on the hunt for men in
“Mata Hambre” by Raquel V. Reyes. She likes to go hunting with the narrator.
Her target this night is an old flame who is a famous tv guy now in the local
area. He is a competitor in a cooking contest that is about to get very
interesting for entrants and spectators alike.
Stolen valor is a subject that
occasionally pops up in the media. It is the central theme of “Thank You for Your
Service” by Mathew Wilson. Kyle came home from serving the country and is
having a hard time of it. He comes up with a plan to document the fake vets he
sees everywhere and make some money by exposing them via social media.
Janeen Turning Heart needs Virgil’s help.
He is the reservation’s enforcer and she has a job for him in “Turning Heart”
by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. It is a job he does not want, but it is a job he
needs to do for a number of reasons.
For the longest time, father has been the
Turkish ambassador to the Russian Federation. His duty to country over family
had consequences. As he is apparently having some cognitive issues based on his
behavior, secrets and disharmony in the family come to the forefront in “Lycia”
by Brendan Williams-Childs.
“Contributors’ Notes” comes next with
author bios and an explanation regarding each story from each of the authors. Those
explanations cover the author’s intent in the tale, the writing process, and
more in an explanation that is often longer than the bio. Those explanations
are very interesting and also reflect the obvious diversity in the read.
The book concludes with “Other Distinguished
Mystery and Suspense Stories of 2021.” There are thirty authors and their tales
are listed along with the markets that published them.
Diversity is prevalent in The Best American
Mystery and Suspense 2022 and not just in terms of race and gender,
though those two are most obvious at a quick glance. Also at work here is
diversity in terms of storytelling styles, themes, imagery, and more. The book
is a complicated read full of solidly good tales.
It is also a very hard read at times. If
you are a certain age and come from a time when nobody intervened when things
happened behind closed doors and you carried those signs in public the next
day, some of the tales here will land far too close to home.
The tales are about those situations, the choices that are made by and for folks, and as one of the authors eloquently put it how “hurt people hurt people.” That idea pretty much applies to every tale in the book, one way or another. These are tales that make the reader think and not always in a happy way. The Best American Mystery and Suspense 2022 is a complicated anthology and one well worth your time.
My reading copy came from the publisher as
a NetGalley ARC.
Kevin R. Tipple ©2022