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.
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 jailbreak with a revenge fantasy, and highlights the author's capacity for dark humor. And Anthony- and Derringer-winner Bill Crider's "Pure Pulp" is a delightful and loving tribute to a bygone era: a locked room mystery set amidst a group of pulpwood writers.
Two of the best stories come from emerging voices and first appeared online, a forward-thinking decision on the editors' part. Sandra Seamans' "Survival Instincts" (Pulp Pusher) — about a young girl who hides in the walls of a hotel room while listening to a brutal murder — is a tense, existential snapshot of sudden violence, and Greg Bardsley's "Crazy Larry Smells Bacon" (Plots with Guns) is a psychotic head-scratcher in the best possible way. Bardsley's story is wild, unpredictable, and totally original: Crazy Larry is an eccentric neighbor who likes to play with knives on the front lawn while lathered in cocoa butter and wearing a Speedo, and revenge smells like bacon to him. Another distinguishing highlight is Jon L. Breen's extensive year in review feature, which covers novels, stories, scholarly and reference books, as well as all the award winners; this survey will surely be a boon for future generations of readers and scholars.