Penzler Pick, February 2002: To the casual observer, it might seem that editing an anthology is a great gig. After all, you essentially get to put your name on a book that other people have written! But an anthology is very much like a paella: it's easy to make one, it's just hard to make a good one. Jeffery Deaver has made a good one. The key to outstanding anthologies is to get good writers, good stories, and the proper mix of classics (the predictable) and discoveries (the unpredictable).
As you might expect from a suspense anthology, one of Deaver's own stories, "The Weekender," is included, and it's one of the high spots of the book. The major ingredient of a suspense story should be... well, suspense. Commonly nowadays, if a story or book isn't a pure genre detective story, it's called "suspense," but in fact it may have no more white-knuckle, heart-pounding, sweat-inducing suspense than a Harlequin romance. Deaver delivers it in this story, as he does in his novels.
Stephen King's "Quitters, Inc." is one of the great classics of suspense, and it's here. We can only wonder which story by Patricia Highsmith, one of the greatest of all suspense writers, would have been in the book. Though she is listed on the dust jacket, no trace of her work can be found in the text. The dust jacket's promise of Reginald Hill is also, alas, unfulfilled.
There are many superb stories here that ultimately fail to deliver on the suspense front. The detective stories of Ellery Queen, for example, represented here by "The Adventure of the Dauphin's Doll," are long on excellent detective plotting but pretty short on nail-biting. The same is true for Michael Malone's brilliant, Edgar-winning masterpiece, "Red Clay," and Rex Stout's wonderful "Fourth of July Picnic." A bad idea in assembling an anthology is to use a "big name" just for the sake of having his work in the book, and that is the case with "Chee's Witch" by Tony Hillerman, one of America's most distinguished mystery novelists, who has admitted that he can't write short stories and proves it with this weak example.
As an anthologist myself, I find it almost irresistible to point out stories that should have been included but weren't, most notably the best pure suspense story of the past decade, Brendan DuBois's "The Dark Snow," and certainly something by the greatest suspense writer of the 20th century, Cornell Woolrich.
Still, this excellent collection is worthwhile because it's chock full of terrific mystery fiction, even if the level of suspense leaves a bit to be desired. --Otto Penzler