The problem with buying anthologies of mystery stories is that if you love them as I do, you’ll find quite a few you’ve already read. So it is with A Century of Great Suspense Stories, edited in 2001 by Jeffery Deaver. Of its 36 stories, I recognized maybe half a dozen, by such luminaries as Ruth Rendell, Lawrence Block, Harlan Ellison, Fredric Brown.
So right away, I’d be slightly annoyed at having forked over the cover price of $29.95. Fortunately, I checked it out at the library. A great thing, is the library. Even when you end up with a bad book, you can’t complain about the price.
And this isn’t a bad book. I don’t know if the collection represents the very best of the genre in the last 100 years, but there are very few duds. Unlike novels, short stories can stand or fold on the strength of their opening lines. There are some real gems here:
“It’s hard not to believe in ghosts when you are one. I hanged myself in a fit of truculence — stronger than pique, but not so dignified as despair — and regretted it before the thing was well begun.” — Donald E. Westlake, “This is Death.”
“If God (or Whoever’s in charge) had wanted Dr. Netta Bernstein to continue living, He (or She) wouldn’t have made it so easy for me to kill her.” — Harlan Ellison, “Killing Bernstein.”
“You can live your life through and try hard to be a decent sort, but trouble might still come to you.” — John Lutz, “So Young, So Fair, So Dead.”
You get the idea. Most of these yarns are definitely noirish in tone, but that’s what happens when you’re trying to assemble the best tales of mystery and suspense. Among the authors represented is James M. Cain, whose The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity practically defined the genre.