Poster for Federal Theatre Project presentation of Mystery of Broadwalk Asylum at the Hollywood Playhouse.  California : Federal Art Project, between 1936 and 1941.

Poster for Federal Theatre Project presentation of "Mystery of Broadwalk Asylum" at the Hollywood Playhouse. California : Federal Art Project, between 1936 and 1941.

Author Rating: D

I’ve been on a mission to find writers of crime capers and/or mysteries as good as Donald E. Westlake and it has been proving something of a fruitless effort.

To try to condense the search, I got The Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories (First Annual Edition) out of the library.

I will now list, in the order their stories appeared in this murderous tome, 24 truly dreadful authors based on my reading or, in many cases, scanning one short story by each, all published in 1990:

  1. Clark Howard
  2. Bill Pronzini
  3. Faye Kellerman
  4. Michael Gilbert
  5. Andrew Vachss
  6. Edward D. Hoch
  7. Ruth Rendell
  8. Lynne Barrett
  9. James Kisner
  10. William Bankier
  11. Robert Barnard
  12. Henry Slesar
  13. Joe R. Lansdale
  14. Lawrence Block
  15. Peter Lovesey
  16. Max Allan Collins
  17. Marcia Muller
  18. Sara Paretsky
  19. Joan Hess
  20. Charlotte MacLeod
  21. Jeremiah Healy
  22. Sue Grafton
  23. John Lutz
  24. Nancy Pickard

The last story in the book, a sci-fi mystery, A Time For Every Purpose, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, shows promise. While not the finest fiction I have ever read, her story was engaging enough to actually read and did not, like most of the others, make me want to stab my eyes out with a pencil, sharp or otherwise.

Rusch appears to have something in common with Westlake — she’s writes different kinds of fiction, not just mysteries, as well as non-fiction. I will in all likelihood give one of her novels a shot.

Illus. from childrens books: Witch Winnies Mystery, 1891

Illus. from children's books: Witch Winnie's Mystery, 1891

I am astonished (though I guess I shouldn’t be based on other similar experiences) at the extraordinarily low standards for mysteries. Many of these appalling authors are currently quite popular with the reading public and, even at the time of publication of this collection, were recipients of numerous mystery awards. I can only conclude that mysteries are the dime novels of the current age.

I rejected the excuse that maybe these are early examples of these authors’ work. If they had any talent for storytelling it should be obvious out of the gate. Donald Westlake’s earliest works are among his best. No, the truth is these people are hacks.

The bad news is I suffered through 24 hacktacular short stories. The good news is I may have found another author — Kristine Kathryn Rusch — to add to my list of people to read.