Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, August 2, 2022


The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, edited by Tony Hillerman (series editor, Otto Penzler), 2000

People may quibble over individual choice here but all the selections are more than worthy, making this 800-page doorstop of a book with its 46 stories first published from 1903 to 1999 an essential collection for anyone interested in the art of the short story in the genre -- where "mystery" also encompasses the detective story, the crime story, and the suspense story.  A number of these tales will be familiar, but many may not.  

Among my many favorite are Melville Davisson Post's "Naboth's Vineyard," featuring the now (I fear) underappreciated Uncle Abner, Raymond Chandler's "Red Wind," with one of the greatest opening paragraph in all of literature, Stanley Ellin's "The Moment of Decision," from one of the absolute masters of the short story, Evan Hunter's "First Offense," one of his many tough tales of juvenile delinquency from the vastly under-rated magazine Manhunt (and from his vastly under-rated collection The Jungle Kids), Stephen Greenleaf's "Iris," which wowed me when I first read it in 1984, and Donald E. Westlake's "Too Many Crooks," because who does not love Dortmunder?

Dip in anywhere and enjoy.

The Stories:
  • O. Henry, "A Retrieved Reformation" (from Cosmopolitan, April 1903; featuring Jimmy Valentine)
  • Willa Cather, "Paul's Case" (from McClure's Magazine, May 1905)
  • Jacques Futrelle, "The Problem of Cell 13" (from Boston American, October 30, 1905; certainly the most famous -- if not the best-- of Futrelle's The Thinking Machine stories)
  • Frederick Irving Anderson, "Blind Man's Bluff" (from The Adventures of the Infallible Godahl, 1914; the Fictionmags Index list this as first appearing in The Saturday Evening Post, May 24, 1913)
  • Melville Davisson Post, "Naboth's Vineyard" (from Illustrated Sunday Magazine, June 4, 1916; an Uncle Abner story)
  • Susan Glaspell, "A Jury of Her :Peers" (from Every Week, March 5. 1917; later published separately in a stand-alone limited edition in 1927)
  • Dashiell Hammett, "The Gutting of Couffignal" (from Black Mask, December 1925; a Continental Op story)
  • Ring Lardner, "Haircut" (from Liberty, March 28, 1925)
  • Wilbur Daniel Steele, "Blue Murder" (from Harper's, October 1925)
  • Ben Ray Redman, "The Perfect Crime" (from Harper's, August 1928)
  • James M. Cain, :The Baby in the Icebox" (from American Mercury, January 1933)
  • John Steinbeck, "The Murder" (from North American Review, December 1933)
  • Damon Runyon, "A Sense of Humor" (from Cosmopolitan, September 1934)
  • Pearl S. Buck, "Ransom" (from Cosmopolitan, October 1938;  Buck was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature but her impact on Twentieth Century culture probably came from her novel The Good Earth -- when Robert de Graff first floated the idea of a cheap mass-market pocket-sized paperback, the popular response to Buck's novel spurred him to partner with Simon & Schuster to create Pocket Books in 1939 and the paperback revolution was born, increasing American literacy significantly.  We owe a lot to Mrs. Buck, if only for that alone.   That's my off-topic comment for today.)
  • Raymond Chandler, "Red Wind" (from  Dime Detective, January 1938; featuring John Dalmas; several of the stories featuring Dalmas were rewritten and/or expanded to feature Philip Marlowe)
  • James Thurber, "The Catbird Seat" (from The New Yorker, November 14, 1942)
  • Cornell Woolrich, "Read Window" (from Dime Detective, February 1942, under the title "It Had To Be Murder; also published under the pseudonym "William Irish"
  • William Faulkner, "An Error in Chemistry" (from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 1946; featuring "Uncle" Gavin Stevens)
  • Harry Kemelman, "The Nine Mile Walk" (from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, April 1947, featuring Nicky Welt; Kemelman's first short story)
  • "Ellery Queen" (Frederik Dannay & Manfred B. Lee") - The Adcenture of the Presidents Half Disme" (from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, February 1947; featuring Ellery Queen)
  • John D. MacDonald, "The Homesick Buick" (from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, September 1950)
  • "Ross Macdonald" (Kenneth Millar), "Gone Girl" (from Manhunt, February 1953, as "The Imaginary Blonde" by "John Ross Macdonald;" featuring Lew Archer)
  • Stanley Ellin, "The Moment of Decision" (from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, March 1955)
  • Evan Hunter (born S. A. Lombino; name legally changed to hunter in 1952), "First Offense" (from Manhunt, December 1955)
  • Margaret Millar, "The Couple Next Door" (from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, July 1957)
  • Henry Slesar, "The Day of the Execution" (from Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, June 1957)
  • Patricia Highsmith, "The Terrapin" (from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, October 1962)
  • Shirley Jackson, "The Possibility of Evil" (from The Saturday Evening Post, December 18, 1965; this one won an Edgar Award for Best Short Story)
  • Flannery O'Connor, "The Comforts of Home" (from Everything That Rises Must Converge, 1965; Fictionmags Index indicates that the story was first published in The Kenyon Review, Fall 1960)
  • Jerome Weidman, "Good Man, Bad Man" (from The Saturday Evening Post, July 1, 1967)
  • Joe Gores, "Goodbye, Pops" (from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, December 1969; winner of an Edgar Award for Best Sort Story)
  • Harlan Ellison, The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" (from Bad Moon Rising, edited by Thomas M. Disch, 1973; winner of an Edgar Award for Best Short Story)
  • Robert L. Fish, "The Wager" (from Playboy, July 1973) 
  • Joyce Carol Oates, "Do with Me What You Will" (from Playboy, June 1973)
  • Stephen King, "Quitters, Inc." (from Night Shift, 1978)
  • "Jack Ritchie" (John George Reitci), "The Absence of Emily" (from Ellery /Queen's Mystery Magazine, January 28, 1981; winner of an Edgar Award for Best Short Story)
  • Lawrence Bloch, "By Dawn's Early Light" (from The Eyes Have It, edited by Robert J. Randisi, 1984; a Matt Scuddwr story; winner of an Edgar award for Best Short Story; later expanded into novel When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes.)
  • Stephen Greenleaf, "Iris" (from The Eyes Have It, edited by Robert J. Randisi, 1984; a John Marshall Tanner story)
  • Sara Paretsky, "Three-Dot Po" (from The Eyes Have It, edited by Robert J. Randisi, 1984; a V. I. Warshawski story)
  • Sue Grafton, "The Parker Shotgun" (from Mean Streets, edited by Robert J. Randisi, 1986; a Kinsey Millhone story)
  • Donald E. Westlake, "Too Many Crooks" (from Playboy, August 1989; a Dortmunder story)
  • James Crumley, "Hot Springs" (from Murder for Love, edited by Otto Penzler, 1996)
  • Brendn DuBois, "The Dark Snow" (from Playboy, November 1996)
  • Michael Malone, "Red Clay" (from Murder for Love, edited by Otto Penzler, 1996; winner of an Edgar Award for Best Short Story)
  • Tom Franklin, "Poachers" (from Texas Review, Spring 1998; winner of an Edgar Award for Best Short Story)
  • Dennis Lehane, "Running Out of Dog" (from Murder and Obsession, edited by Otto Penzler, 1999)

And because I love to carp, no stories by John Dickson Carr, Edward D. Hoch, Bill Pronzini, Ed Gorman, and so many others?

Which of these stories/authors are your favorites?  Do you have a nomination for a best short story that is not listed above -- one that has stuck with you over the years?

NOTE:  This volume should not be conflated Great American Mystery Stories of the Twentieth Century, an anonymously-edited volume issued by the Franklin Library in 1989.  That volume has only half as many stories and half as many pages the Hillerman book.  Although, to be fair, several of the stories repeat in both volumes.


  1. As you probably remember, Otto Penzler's working definition of a Mystery Story has been, a story with a crime key to it. So, a wide potential range in his series and other projects, BAMS and its successor and others.

    "Goodbye, Pops" is one of the best Joe Gores stories I remember (though "The Second Coming" hit me even harder as a young reader, and "Watch for It"), Certainly Bill Pronzini's "Strangers in the Fog" among a number of others would fit in here nicely, as might Robert Bloch's "The Final Performance" and Edward Hoch's "The Oblong Room" (and and and)...the Oates I would plump for would still tend to be "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?". But it is a good book. I think the JD MacDonald choice is a good clever story, but better ones might've taken its place.

    There are precious few writers represented whose work I don't enjoy. Glad you were reminded of the book, or finally got to enjoy it.

  2. Any book with the pretentious title of THE GREATEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES OF THE CENTURY is bound to fail. There are too many stories for a single volume. The Library of America series is up to 300 volumes...and still growing!

    1. Well, George, it's part of the HMCo (Now HH) had a companion in the BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES century special, which, as you might guess, has at least as many quibbles and serious elisions about it..

  3. I was thinking sort of what George said, how could they fit enough stories into one book. The only one of these I specifically remember is the one by Margaret Millar, "The Couple Next Door". I haven't been reading short stories that long.

    The stories here would be a good place to start though, probably.