Happy Valentine’s Day! As I’ve been reminding everyone, nothing says love like a nice crime fiction novel — or in this case, story collection. Because as everybody knows, Love and Death walk hand in hand through this world. The well-muscled human heart is capable of reddish deeds both glorious and horrific, that’s for certain, and nowhere is that clearer than in these stories, edited this year by that master of the taut bone-edged tale, Lee Child.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Best American series of series (and there are several, including short fiction, crime fiction, nature writing, etc.) each year a series editor chooses the best fifty among that 365 days’ worth of offerings, and then a guest editor (usually an honored writer in that field) chooses the best twenty. Cream of the crop indeed. Which means that even though there’s not a Lee Child story in the bunch this year, his fingerprints are all over the choices. And they are choice choices indeed, most of them containing, right at the middle, the beat-beat-beat of love. Or something like it.
One of my favorite of these stories is “Ed Luby’s Key Club” by none other than Kurt Vonnegut, a dearly departed whose genius still shines, and shines sweetly, in this tale of murder, set-ups, mafia assassinations, and vengeance (which is cold indeed, unlike the rest of the story). It begins and ends with love, though, true love. Which is the best we can say for our lives, don’t you think?
Dennis Lehane has a story inside entitled “Animal Rescue” — this one begins with a puppy, but not love, not at all. And I confess, I almost didn’t read it because of that vulnerable lost puppy, destined for nothing good, and I wasn’t sure I trusted Lehane enough with my either heart or a puppy, especially not all tangled up together. So I read it real fast, ready to slam it shut at any second. But I made it to the end. And then I went back and read it again for the writing, for words like this: “Somewhere, he was sure, two people made love. A man and a woman. Entwined. Behind one of those shades, oranged with light, that looked down on the street. Bob could feel them in there, naked and blessed. And he stood out here in the cold with a near-dead dog staring back at him. The icy sidewalk glinted like new marble, and the wind was dark and gray as slush.” And I read it again because Lehane didn’t let me down, but he didn’t take the easy way out. A story I will remember forever as a masterpiece in a minor key.
High recommended. Each story demands its own libation, so I’d just keep the bar open. A stiff shot (or two) of something strong before tackling “Dredge,” a warmed brandy and a cigar before meeting once again with a finely-rendered Sherlock Holmes in “The Case of Colonel Warburton’s Madness,” and a margarita (not too sweet) with “Charlie and the Pirates.”