Edited by Verena Rose, Harriette Sackler and Shawn Reilly Simmons — This is a crime fiction anthology written by or featuring law enforcement professionals, mostly in the United States. There is something for everyone in this eclectic mix of 31 stories, offering a cross section of America via its crimes, and those people who try to prevent them. Most of the protagonists are in the police forces, but there are a few community officers, special rangers and sheriffs as well.
Some of the stories show the mean streets of cities torn by gang violence, which are so familiar to us on television. Micki Browning’s Thicker than Water explores the toll it takes on families, while Alison McMahan’s The Drive-by features Cambodian and Latino police officers teaming up to investigate the shooting of a child in LA. Cities can also be places of loneliness, where returning military vets find themselves homeless and destitute. Sometimes, they even become a target for killers, as in Harriette Sackler’s No Safe Place.
There are small-town cops, too, who have to be counsellors, mentors, protectors, punishers and judges in their communities. It is refreshing to see both male and female characters fulfilling this multitude of roles, where they are required to be both strong and compassionate. In Claire A Murray’s Chains, a female police officer fights to save an abused woman’s life, as well as her own. Ruth McCarty’s Becky’s File also features a female detective, a new police chief who investigates a cold case about the murder of her best friend at school. Of course, male officers are resourceful too, as in Dale T Phillip’s Christmas Shift, where a lonely cop forced to spend the holiday season on duty discovers who stabbed Santa Claus.
There are some stories set in the past, while others take place in rural areas, borrowing heavily from the theme of pioneers heading west. As you would expect, there are plenty of cases of cattle raiding and rebranding, settling scores with shotguns and tricking each other out of money. Whether we find ourselves in 1890s New England in The Cattle Raid of Adams or 1940s Oklahoma in Get Along Little Dogie, on a Texas ranch where a hired hand gets impaled by a piece of farm equipment in Deadly Discovery in Dallas, or among rival goat breeders in Ohio in Annie Get Your Goat, there is something timeless about these tales of rivalry and survival, and more than a dash of humour.
Animals feature prominently in other stories too: sniffer dogs, ragdoll cats, some of them witnessing crimes ranging from the cosy to the scary. Our own contributor Vicki Weisfeld’s Burning Bright even features a group of people planning to stage a dangerous event involving a tiger and a wild bear. With a strong female protagonist, it’s an unusual tale of greed and comeuppance handled with a nice sense of irony.
Finally, there is a batch of stories which have a supernatural component, such as Steve Roy’s The Runner or Tracy Falenwolfe’s The Woman in White. Elements of Voodoo surface at times as well, as in Most Evil by Peter DiChellis.
Hopefully, that gives you a flavour of this delightfully diverse anthology. Of course, with so many contributors, the stories vary in length and quality, but they are richly representative of the diversity of crime fiction writing in the United States. There is even a British contribution, in marked contrast to all the other stories, with Martin Edwards’ story Bad Friday taking place on a commuter train heading for Liverpool.
A book to dip into at leisure and revisit. If you like crime stories, you might also want to consider PD James’ Christmas-themed stories or the anthology of stories inspired by Edward Hopper’s paintings, while if you are looking for crime fiction set in a specific place, the London-based stories edited by Martin Edwards might be just the ticket.
Level Best Books
CFL Rating: 4 Stars