The Best American Mystery Stories 2012

BOOK: The Best American Mystery Stories 2012

Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents




The Hit

The Bridge Partner


The Funeral Bill

Fifty Minutes

Man on the Run

The Other Place



Soul Anatomy

The Good Samaritan

Looking for Service

Dog on a Cow

Vic Primeval

Hard Truths

Local Knowledge




Returning the River

Contributors' Notes

Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2011

About the Editors

Copyright © 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Introduction copyright © 2012 by Robert Crais




The Best American Series® is a registered trademark of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
The Best American Mystery Stories
™ is a trademark of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.


No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system without the proper written permission of the copyright owner unless such copying is expressly permitted by federal copyright law. With the exception of nonprofit transcription in Braille, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is not authorized to grant permission for further uses of copyrighted selections reprinted in this book without the permission of their owners. Permission must be obtained from the individual copyright owners as identified herein. Address requests for permission to make copies of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt material to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York 10003.







These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the authors' imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

“The Hit” by Tom Andes. First published in
Xavier Review,
Vol. 31, No. 1. Copyright © 2011 by Thomas Andes. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“The Bridge Partner” by Peter S. Beagle. First published in
Sleight of Hand,
March 2011. Copyright © 2011 by Avicenna Development Corporation. Reprinted by permission of Avicenna Development Corporation.

“Filament” by K. L. Cook. First published in
One Story,
No. 147. Copyright © 2011 by K. L. Cook. Reprinted by permission of K. L. Cook.

“The Funeral Bill” by Jason DeYoung. First published in
New Orleans Review,
37.1. Copyright © 2011 by Jason DeYoung. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“Fifty Minutes” by Joe Donnelly and Harry Shannon. First published in
Slake: Los Angeles,
No.2: Crossing Over. Copyright © 2011 by Joe Donnelly and Harry Shannon. Reprinted by permission of
/ Joe Donnelly and Harry Shannon.

“Man on the Run” by Kathleen Ford. First published in
New England Review,
Vol. 31, No. 4. Copyright © 2012 by Middlebury Publications. Reprinted by permission of
New England Review.

“The Other Place” by Mary Gaitskill. First published in
The New Yorker,
February 14 & 21, 2011. Copyright © 2011 by Mary Gaitskill. Reprinted by permission of Mary Gaitskill.

“Safety” by Jesse Goolsby. First published in
Greensboro Review,
Fall 2011. Copyright © 2011 by Jesse Goolsby. Reprinted by permission of Jesse Goolsby.

“Trafficking” by Katherine L. Hester. First published in
No. 31. Copyright © 2011 by Katherine L. Hester. Reprinted by permission of Katherine L. Hester.

“Soul Anatomy” by Lou Manfredo. First published in
New Jersey Noir,
November 2011. Copyright © 2011 by Lou Manfredo. Reprinted by permission of Akashic Books.

“The Good Samaritan” by Thomas McGuane. First published in
The New Yorker,
April 25, 2011. Copyright © 2011 by Thomas McGuane. Reprinted by permission of The Wylie Agency, LLC.

“Looking for Service” by Nathan Oates. First published in
Antioch Review,
Vol. 69, No. 2. Copyright © 2012 by Nathan Oates. Reprinted by permission of Nathan Oates.

“Dog on a Cow” by Gina Paoli. First published in
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,
February 2011. Copyright © 2012 by Gina Paoli. Reprinted by permission of Gina Paoli.

“Vic Primeval” by T. Jefferson Parker. First published in
San Diego Noir,
May 2011. Copyright © 2011 by Akashic Books. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“Hard Truths” by Thomas J. Rice. First published in
New Orphic Review,
Vol. 14, No. 1. Copyright © 2011 by Thomas J. Rice. Reprinted by permission of Thomas J. Rice.

“Local Knowledge” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. First published in
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,
November 2011. Copyright © 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Reprinted by permission of Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

“Icarus” by Lones Seiber. First published in
Indiana Review,
Summer 2011. Copyright © 2011 by Lones Seiber. Reprinted by permission of Lones Seiber.

“Trafalgar” by Charles Todd. First published in
Mammoth Book of Historical Crime Fiction,
September 2011. Copyright © 2011 by Charles Todd. Reprinted by permission of Charles Todd.

“Half-Lives” by Tim L. Williams. First published in
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,
March/April 2011. Copyright © 2011 by Tim L. Williams. Reprinted by permission of Tim L. Williams.

“Returning the River” by Daniel Woodrell. First published in the book
The Outlaw Album
by Daniel Woodrell. Copyright © 2011 by Daniel Woodrell. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.


about mystery fiction frequently (some ungenerous soul might say ad nauseam) through the years, I have maintained that one of its appeals is that it is a literary presentation of a fundamental life force: a battle between those who value Good in opposition to the spear carriers of Evil.

Ruminating on it recently, however, I came to think this may be less true at this time than it was when I first became interested in crime fiction. As character and psychological elements of a story have transcended plots and clues, as the reason
a murder was committed has transcended the question of
committed it or
it was done, it seems to be that the two omnipresent factors in contemporary crime fiction are Death and Sin.

Death appears to provide the minds of readers with a greater fund of innocent amusement than any other single subject except love, but of course in crime fiction they are not mutually exclusive components of a novel or short story. Furthermore, when Death is accompanied by Sin in its most repugnant shapes, the fun increases exponentially. Some readers prefer the intellectual cheerfulness of a detective story while others have a taste that runs more to noir fiction, but in either case the story generally requires at least one dead body and at least one very wicked person for it to provide that frisson of pleasure that may be had while viewing horrible events from a safe distance.

Here, then, in the sixteenth volume in this distinguished series, is a collection of stories nearly all of which are about Death and Sin, with plenty of dead bodies and an abundance of wicked people. They are designed, albeit unconsciously on the most part, to make you feel that it's good to be alive and, while alive, on the whole, to be good.

It should be noted, in a parenthetical aside, that mystery writers are, with (truly) few exceptions, good. It is fundamental to their jobs to be aware of the fact that your sins will be discovered, no matter how clever you think you are. This is why, it should be further noted, mystery fiction is such a good influence in an increasingly degenerate world, and why it is so popular with academics, lawyers, politicians, and others who have reputations to protect; reading mysteries improves their morals and keeps them out of excessive mischief.

While it is redundant for me to write it again, since I have done it in each of the previous fifteen volumes of this series, I recognize the lamentable fact that not everyone has read every one of those books, nor memorized the introductory remarks, so it falls into the category of fair warning to state that many people regard a “mystery” only as a detective story. I regard the detective story as one subgenre of a much bigger genre, which I define as any work of fiction in which a crime, or the threat of a crime, is central to the theme or the plot. While I love good puzzles and tales of pure ratiocination, few of these are written today, as the mystery genre has evolved (or devolved, depending on your point of view) into a more character-driven form of literature, as noted previously. The line between mystery fiction and general fiction has become more and more blurred in recent years, producing fewer memorable detective stories but more significant literature. It has been my goal in this series to recognize that fact and to reflect it between these covers. The best writing makes it into the book. Fame, friendship, original venue, reputation, subject—none of it matters. It isn't only the qualification of being the best writer that will earn a place in the table of contents; it also must be the best story.

As frequent readers of this series are aware, each annual volume would, I am convinced, require three years to compile were it not for the uncanny ability of my colleague, Michele Slung, to read, absorb, and evaluate thousands of pages in what appears to be a nanosecond. After culling the nonmysteries, as well as those crime stories perpetrated by writers who may want to consider careers in carpentry or knitting instead of wasting valuable trees for their efforts, I read stacks of them, finally settling on the fifty best—or at least my fifty favorites—which are then passed on to the guest editor, who this year is the creator of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, Robert Crais. Coincidentally, but generously, he began writing the introduction to this volume on the same weekend that his most recent novel,
hit the number-one spot on the
New York Times
bestseller list.

My sincere thanks go to this supernaturally gifted author, as well as to the previous guest editors, who helped make this series so successful: Robert B. Parker, who started it all in 1997, followed by Sue Grafton, Ed McBain, Donald E. Westlake, Lawrence Block, James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, Nelson DeMille, Joyce Carol Oates, Scott Turow, Carl Hiaasen, George Pelecanos, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, and Harlan Coben.

While Michele and I engage in a relentless quest to locate and read every mystery/crime/suspense story published, I live in fear that we will miss a worthy one, so if you are an author, editor or publisher, or care about one, please feel free to send a book, magazine, or tearsheet to me c/o The Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY 10007. If the story first appeared electronically, you must submit a hard copy. It is vital to include the author's contact information. No unpublished material will be considered, for what should be obvious reasons. No material will be returned. If you distrust the postal service, enclose a self-addressed, stamped postcard.

To be eligible, a story must have been written by an American or a Canadian and first issued in an American or Canadian publication in the calendar year 2012 with a 2012 publication date. The earlier in the year I receive the story, the more fondly I regard it. For reasons known only to the blockheads who wait until Christmas week to submit a story published the previous spring, holding eligible stories for months before submitting them occurs every year, which causes much gnashing of teeth while I read a stack of stories as my wife and friends are trimming the Christmas tree or otherwise celebrating the holiday season. It had better be a damned good story if you do this. Because of the very tight production schedule for this book, the absolute deadline is December 31. If the story arrives one day later, it will not be read. Sorry.

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