Photograph: La Main Dans le Sac (CC) F. Moreno
THOUGH ONLY A HANDFUL OF MYSTERY MAGAZINES REMAIN in print, short form crime fiction continues to thrive. The genre has found a new lease on life through an ever-growing number of websites and a steady stream of “themed” print anthologies. Dozens of these anthologies — some reprinting older stories and others consisting entirely of new material — crowd the shelves of major and minor bookstores across the country.
Among the most unusual of the original anthologies is Damn Near Dead 2: Live Noir or Die Trying, a collection of twenty-eight tales in the self-defined niche of “geezer noir.” Edited by Bill Crider and published by the small-but-ambitious Houston-based Busted Flush Press, this follow-up to 2006’s original Damn Near Dead, manages to avoid the trappings of “gimmick” anthologies. The contributors clearly have fun with the “geezer” theme, but they focus on the story rather than the shtick. Stories range from the satiric — Joe R. Lansdale’s pithy “The Old Man in the Motorized Chair,” about a grumpy, retired detective who solves crimes between commercial breaks — to the tragic — Ed Gorman’s “Flying Solo,” about two terminally-ill cancer patients whose turn to violent vigilantism reflects their deeply rooted social and personal discontent. Anthology-opener “Sleep, Creep, Leap” by Patricia Abbott, a clever slow-burner about neighborly good intentions gone wrong, evokes the patient plotting and redolent characterization of Margaret Millar. Gary Phillips’ “The Investor” points to new directions in socially conscious crime fiction by fusing classic genre elements — mob corruption and hitmen — with timely economic and environmental concerns. And James Reasoner’s “Warning Shot” mixes pathos and action, as a Depression-era night security guard copes with the emotional and tangible consequences of an accidental shooting. Happily, Damn Near Dead 2 does without nursing home pastiche and cranky cane wielders.
Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg, the editors of By Hook or By Crook, and 30 More of the Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year (Tyrus Books), have collaborated for over two decades and are among the most respected anthologists in the field. Their latest collection offers a thorough and comprehensive look at the contemporary crime fiction scene, ranging from established novelists to up-and-coming writers. Laura Lippman—whose Tess Monaghan novels have won nearly all the major mystery awards (the Edgar, Agatha, Shamus, Nero Wolfe, and Anthony) — gives the archetype of the suffering mother a dark twist in “Cougar,” a story about a woman whose life comes to a crossroads when her son converts her house into a meth lab. Tom Piccirilli, two-time winner of the International Thriller Writers Award for Best Paperback Original, is known primarily for his novels, but has done some of his best work is in the short form. Less bleak than his recent novella “The Last Deep Breath,” “Blood Sacrifices and the Catatonic Kid” combines a loony-bin jai...read more