The Best American Mystery Stories 2016

BOOK: The Best American Mystery Stories 2016

Title Page





, The Little Men

, Okay, Now Do You Surrender?

, Toward the Company of Others

, Fool Proof

, Safety

, Christians

, A Death

, For Something to Do

, The Continental Opposite

, Street of the Dead House

, Lafferty's Ghost

, The Tank Yard

, Trash

, Christmas Eve at the Exit

, The Mountain Top

, Mailman

, Rearview Mirror

, Border Crossing

, Entwined

, God's Plan for Dr. Gaynor and Hastings Chiume

Contributors' Notes

Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2015

The Best American Series®

About the Editors

Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

Introduction copyright © 2016 by Elizabeth George




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 write to [email protected] or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.







Cover design by Christopher Moisan © Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Cover photograph © SuperStock


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 Little Men” by Megan Abbott. First published by
Mysterious Press, September 15, 2015. Copyright © 2015 by Megan Abbott. Reprinted by permission of Megan Abbott.

“Okay, Now Do You Surrender?” by Steve Almond. First published in
Cincinnati Review,
vol. 11, no. 2. Copyright © 2015 by Steve Almond. Reprinted by permission of Steve Almond.

“Toward the Company of Others” by Matt Bell. First published in
Tin House,
issue 65. Copyright © 2015 by Matt Bell. Reprinted by permission of Matt Bell.

“Fool Proof” by Bruce Robert Coffin. First published in
Red Dawn: Best New England Crime Stories.
Copyright © 2015 by Bruce Robert Coffin. Reprinted by permission of Bruce Robert Coffin.

“Safety” by Lydia Fitzpatrick. First published in
One Story,
issue 207. Copyright © 2015 by Lydia Fitzpatrick. Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of the author.

“Christians” by Tom Franklin. First published in
Murder under the Oaks,
edited by Art Taylor. Copyright © 2015 by Tom Franklin. Reprinted by permission of Tom Franklin.

“A Death” by Stephen King. First published in
The New Yorker,
March 9, 2015. From
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams
by Stephen King. Copyright © 2015 by Stephen King. Reprinted with the permission of Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

“For Something to Do” by Elmore Leonard. First published in
Charlie Martz and Other Stories: The Unpublished Stories of Elmore Leonard.
Copyright © 2015 by Elmore Leonard, Inc. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

“The Continental Opposite” by Evan Lewis. First published in
Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,
May 2015. Copyright © 2015 by David Evan Lewis. Reprinted by permission of Evan Lewis.

“Street of the Dead House” by Robert Lopresti. First published in
edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles, July 1, 2015. Copyright © 2015 by Robert Lopresti. Reprinted by permission of Robert Lopresti.

“Lafferty's Ghost” by Dennis McFadden. First published in
no. 61. Copyright © 2015 by Dennis McFadden. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“The Tank Yard” by Michael Noll. First published in
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,
July 2015. Copyright © 2015 by Michael Noll. Reprinted by permission of Michael Noll.

“Trash” by Todd Robinson. First published in
Last Word
by the editors of Joyride Press, August 2015. Copyright © 2015 by Todd Robinson. Reprinted by permission of Todd Robinson.

“Christmas Eve at the Exit” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. First published in
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine,
January 2015. Copyright © 2015 by Kristine K. Rusch. Reprinted by permission of Kristine K. Rusch.

“The Mountain Top” by Georgia Ruth. First published in
Fish or Cut Bait: A Guppy Anthology,
April 7, 2015. Copyright © 2015 by Georgia Wilson. Reprinted by permission of Georgia Wilson.

“Mailman” by Jonathan Stone. First published in
edited by Clay Stafford and Jeffery Deaver, October 27, 2015. Copyright © 2015 by Jonathan Stone. Reprinted by permission of Jonathan Stone.

“Rearview Mirror” by Art Taylor. First published in
On the Road with Del & Louise
by Art Taylor, September 15, 2015. Copyright © 2015 by Art Taylor. Reprinted by permission of Henery Press, LLC.

“Border Crossing” by Susan Thornton. First published in the
Literary Review,
vol. 58, no. 3, Summer 2015. Copyright © 2015 by Susan R. Thornton. Reprinted by permission of Susan R. Thornton.

“Entwined” by Brian Tobin. First published in
Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,
June 2015. Copyright © 2015 by Brian Tobin. Reprinted by permission of Brian Tobin.

“God's Plan for Dr. Gaynor and Hastings Chiume” by Saral Waldorf. First published in
Southern Review,
Spring 2015. Copyright © 2015 by Saral Waldorf. Reprinted by permission of Saral Waldorf.


twentieth edition of
The Best American Mystery Stories
of the year, a very gratifying milestone. The series began when my agent, Nat Sobel, and I were having lunch, as we have every month for the past thirty years. In the middle of a sentence about who knows what he said, “I have an idea.” This is common in our relationship, as I would argue that he is the best and most creative agent on the planet.

Nat had represented the longtime series editor of Houghton Mifflin's prestigious
The Best American Short Stories
of the year, an annual event that began in 1915. He suggested that it was time for a similar mystery series and thought I should be the editor. I agreed. He went back to his office, called the editor in chief of Houghton Mifflin, and they came to an agreement in two minutes.

For my first guest editor, I wanted someone who was an accomplished author, not just in the mystery category but one who brought serious literary credentials to the table as well. Being a bestseller was not a requirement but was certainly a desirable element. I aimed high and called my friend Robert B. Parker, who agreed to take on the job without hesitation. To this day, his introduction to the 1997 edition remains the most erudite and comprehensive essay in the history of the series. The book went on to make the bestseller list in Boston and sold enough copies nationally to make Houghton Mifflin happy.

Reflecting on the past twenty years reminds me of how much has changed but also how much has remained the same.

Changes? The publisher is now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, following a merger of these two honored houses, both with long histories of excellence. The editor in chief has changed twice during those two decades. The publishing landscape has changed, with more and more mergers, though there is less impact on readers than one might have expected. The bookselling landscape has changed even more. Twenty years ago, Amazon was just beginning to emerge as a major force; today it dominates the bookselling world. Whereas the giant book emporiums of Barnes & Noble and Borders had forced many independent bookshops out of business, the marketplace dominance of Amazon has forced Borders out of existence and seriously threatens Barnes & Noble, while further crippling the independent bookstore. The ray of light is that more independent bookstores have opened in America during the past three years than closed their doors.

Similarities? I am still the series editor, and the methodology of determining which stories make the cut remains the same. My invaluable associate Michele Slung reads and evaluates thousands of stories every year, culling those that clearly do not belong on a short list—or a long one either, for that matter—to determine if they have mystery or criminal content, frequently impossible to know merely by reading the title, as well as whether they have any literary merit. I then read the stories that need to be considered in order to arrive at the fifty best (or at least those I like the most). Those are sent to the guest editor, who selects the twenty stories that make it into the book; the remaining thirty receive honorable mention. 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 spot in the table of contents; it also must be the best story.

Another similarity from the first book to the twentieth has been the quest to have the right person serve as the guest editor. Willingness to do this is an act of generosity. Every guest editor for this series has been a national bestseller, and therefore these are authors who are asked to do something virtually every day of their lives: write a story, make a speech, sign a book, visit a bookshop or library, provide a quote for a dust jacket, offer advice about how to be a better writer or a more successful one, attend a conference or convention—the list goes on.

It is with deep gratitude, then, that I applaud Elizabeth George for agreeing to serve in this role for the 2016 edition. She is a number-one best-selling writer, an American whose detective novels are set in England, best known for her superb series featuring Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, actually Lord Asherton, privately educated (Eton College and Oxford University), and his partner, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, who comes from a working-class background—both from Scotland Yard. George's first novel,
A Great Deliverance,
was published in 1988, and there have been eighteen further adventures of Lynley and Havers, as well as four young adult novels and two short story collections.

I also am in debt to previous guest editors; my thanks continue to resonate for James Patterson, Laura Lippman, Lisa Scottoline, Robert Crais, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, George Pelecanos, Carl Hiaasen, Scott Turow, Joyce Carol Oates, Nelson DeMille, Michael Connelly, James Ellroy, Lawrence Block, Donald E. Westlake, Ed McBain, Sue Grafton, and, of course, Robert B. Parker.

While it is redundant to write it again, since I have already done it in each of the previous nineteen volumes of this series (although it is painful to acknowledge, I do recognize that not everyone reads and memorizes my annual forewords), it is fair warning to state that many people erroneously regard a “mystery” as a detective story. The detective story is important but is only one subgenre of a much bigger literary category, mystery fiction, 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, with more emphasis on the “why” of a crime's commission than a “who” or “how.” 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.

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