September 28, 2010
I have sometimes opened an anthology of short fiction, scanned the table of contents, noted two or three authors whose names I recognized, and wondered 'who are all these other writers and why haven't I heard of them?' Sadly, sometimes after reading the stories I know the answers. It took me years to understand that by their very natures, anthologies are often of uneven quality. Yes, even the annual 'Best American Mystery Stories' series has been known to publish some stories that have made me question the editors' capacity for alcohol.
I'm happy to report that such is not the case with Between the Dark and the Daylight. Whether you recognize all the names or not, you won't find one dog of a story in this book, starting with Father's Day (an L&O-ish Harry Bosch tale by Michael Connelly) right through to the melancholy horror of Sack of Woe (John Harvey).
In between those excellent bookends, you'll find the Edgar-winning Skinhead Central (T. Jefferson Parker) and the Macavity and Anthony nominated A Sleep Not Unlike Death (Sean Chercover), the latter of which is a must read for Chercover's fans who want to know more about his enigmatic character, Gravedigger Peace.
I have to commend the editors, Ed Gorman and Martin Greenburg, because their selection is flawless. I wish I had time to talk about all 28 stories but I'm going to limit myself to just three more, the first of which is the title story, Between the Dark and the Daylight (Tom Piccirilli). There's one word for this story: harrowing. Maybe it's because I have an overwhelming fear of heights and this story involves a runaway balloon. Maybe it's the helpless child in that balloon. Maybe it's the four men dangling from ropes, trying desperately to save the child. And maybe it's all of that and more. Because that's just when the author is getting started.
Two more from this remarkably fine collection, and they come from the one-two punch of mother and daughter, Patricia Abbott and Megan Abbott. Megan's story is Cheer, about a nasty little squad of privileged cheerleaders who will never out-nasty their coach. This one left me reeling.
Patricia's story, The Instrument of Their Desire, stands out even among so many other great stories. It is a deeply wrenching story of family loyalty and perceived betrayal and decades-old secrets, and is my favorite out of a terrific bunch of stories. This story delivers an atmosphere of abject poverty without ever dwelling on the details, but only the results of such desperate need, and Abbott does a superlative job of bringing her small cast of characters to vivid life. Yes, I cried. So sue me.
Other authors in this collection include Brett Battles (Perfect Gentleman is a perfect jewel), Gary Phillips, Martin Limón, Charles Ardai, Bill Pronzini, and the incomparable Bill Crider. And yes, there are more and you do know their names: Oates, Pickard, Harris, Robinson, etc, etc. Although the editors consider this a "best of" collection for 2008, I would stack these stories against any other "best of" collection, from any year, they are all that good.