RARA-AVIS: Re: Review of "Best American Mystery Stories 2009"

From: JIM DOHERTY (jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 10 Nov 2009

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    Re your comment below:

    "I wish that Jon were wrong, but he's not -- a mystery story really ought to have some mystery . . ."

    Without commenting on the specific criticisms Breen makes, if by "mystery" you mean "whodunit" or "puzzle," I have to disagree.

    "Mystery" as a term to describe this genre, has always been much broader than that, going all the way back to Poe.

    There is, for example, no puzzle about who the villain is, or how he commits the crime in "The Purloined Letter." There is the puzzle of where the evidence needed to prove the villain's guilt can be found, true, but there's no question of who Dupin's quarry is.

    There isn't even the question of finding the hidden evidence of the villain's guilt in Conan Doyle's "The Final Problem." It's all about the Duel of the Titans, Holmes and Moriarty, not about the analysis of clues.

    And if a whodunit or puzzle was necessary to qualify a story as a mystery, none of the "inverted" stories in Freeman's THE SINGING BONE collection, in Vickers's DEPARTMENT OF DEAD END series, in (presuming that they follow the format of the TV series) William Link's upcoming COLUMBO collection that you yourself are publishing, would qualify.

    Breen may very well be right that this edition of the BAMS series is not particularly satisfying. I myself generally find I like them much less than Ed Gorman's continuation of the long-running series begun by David Cooke back in 1946. But if it is substandard, it's not because Penzler's definition of "mystery" is too broad.



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