Two short story collections for mystery lovers

Two new mystery/noir collections highlight stories with Christmas settings and works by pioneering women writers.

In "The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries," editor Otto Penzler – who runs The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City – tracks down some of the best holiday tales of murder and menace, greed and graft.

When it comes to the holidays, most of us don't solve any mysteries more complicated than The Case of the Missing Last Piece of Pecan Pie.

But darkness can lurk in the shortest days of the year, especially in the minds of readers who seek a break from all those festive carols and TV specials.
 If you're looking to dip into mystery fiction over the next couple of weeks – or buy a book for a fan – check out these two nifty new short-story collections.

"The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries," edited by Otto Penzler
 What would Christmas be without delightful moments of togetherness? All those office parties, family dinners, lingering moments under the mistletoe.

But look deeper. Did somebody steal the holiday bonuses? Why aren't Uncle Ted and Aunt Phyllis talking to each other? And hey, how come this fruitcake tastes like bitter almonds?

These are the kinds of questions that have captured mystery writers (and readers) for decades. In "The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries," editor Otto Penzler – who runs The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City – tracks down some of the best holiday tales of murder and menace, greed and graft.

Agatha Christie is here, with stories starring both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. So are Damon Runyon, Sara Paretsky, John D. MacDonald, Rex Stout, Ed McBain and many more, plus batches of amusing stories, Sherlock Holmes-ian tales, puzzlers. Even Robert Louis Stevenson and O. Henry make appearances.

These are American and British stories, many of them dating from decades past, some back to the 19th century, and they often focus on the upper crust (looking at you, Agatha!). But what they lack in diversity, especially of the ethnic kind, they often make up in pure malicious deliciousness.

The cover of this behemoth of a book (it's 672 pages) calls it  "the most complete collection of yuletide whodunnits ever assembled." That's a stretch. Many of the stories aren't about identifying a culprit but instead aim to answer questions of why or how, often using Christmas as just a setting.

However they utilize the holiday season, the very best of the bunch offer readers an answer to this query: "How is this story going to end with a fantastic twist?"
"Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense," edited by Sarah Weinman
Home is where the heart is. Well, maybe in some short stories. But not the ones in this new collection. The milk of human kindness is in short supply in these bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms.

What would you expect from an anthology that begins with a stunner of a story by the master of malevolence herself, Patricia Highsmith?

Along with Shirley "The Lottery" Jackson, Highsmith is one of the two top names in "Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories from the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense." But the other women writers of these short stories are more obscure.

Sarah Weinman, a mystery short fiction author herself, wants to restore some luster to these authors, who have all passed away except for one woman who's in her 90s. As she explains in the introduction, these writers gained audiences during World War II and beyond as mystery fiction evolved from detective stories to a wider blend of tales of suspense and psychological intrigue.

There are a couple clunkers in this collection. But most of the short stories are vivid, sly, and even witty. And some are dark enough to make a cold winter's night feel positively pale. Shiver away: For a mystery lover, this is good stuff.

Randy Dotinga, a regular Monitor contributor, also interviewed Janet Hutchings, the editor of the venerable Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, which turned 70 earlier this year.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Two short story collections for mystery lovers
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today