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Annuals of Crime

The Choice of 'Best' can be a Mystery, too.

Nov 9, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 08 • By JON L. BREEN
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That leaves us with the odder choices for a best-of collection. Tom Bissell's "My Interview with the Avenger" comes from an original anthology with a dubious premise: Literary writers were commissioned to write about superheroes. Bissell carries out the assignment reasonably well, but was it really worth doing? Ron Carlson's "Beanball," an okay story about a baseball scout working in Central America, follows a conventional thriller structure with a bit too much Hemingway in the telling. M.M.M. Hayes's "Meantime, Quentin Ghee," in which a rural Westerner plans to kill (and torture?) an injured biker lest he despoil the environment, struck me as very slight.

Nic Pizzolatto's "Wanted Man" is written well enough, but its general dreariness is unredeemed by character interest. Randy Rohn's "The Man Who Fell in Love With the Stump of a Tree," set in rural Indiana, hasn't much apparent point. Jonathan Tel's wrong-man story, "Bola de la Fortuna," starts as a standard mystery but goes in a different direction, which would be perfectly fine if the result were something as good as the genre conventions being cast aside.

Perhaps the most problematic of all is Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "G-Men," an alternate-history tale in which J.  Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson are both murdered in 1964. Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy appear as characters. Rusch is a good writer, and this is certainly an intriguing idea; but as presented here, with its perfunctory and underdeveloped solution to the whodunit, it's a work in progress, a promising candidate for expansion to novel length but a doubtful choice for a best-of-the-year volume.

Are any of these bad stories? Well, maybe one or two. But the real point is this: It's impossible to imagine there weren't better ones that would render the title of this anthology more accurate.

Jon L. Breen is the author, most recently, of Probable Claus.