I really had no intention to do other than enjoy this issue of Best American Mystery Stories as mystery and horror had always been one of my favorite reading (and writing!) genres but one I’ve sadly neglected for many years.
Even while this issue is edited by the famous Joyce Carol Oates, I must say I am sadly disappointed with the very first story in the book. It is to my mind, not overwhelming in the writing style, nor the mystery, as the intention of where the story is heading is pretty obvious right from the start. There’s also a bit of weird surprise to the author when he came upon a decent metaphor then overplayed it:
"In his apartment he found it difficult to sit still, and nearly impossible to sleep. He began pacing from wall to wall of his apartment, trying to move without any thought or even excess motion, like a fish in an aquarium, varying his passage as little as possible as he continued his routine.
Then, finally, a change. The phone rang in his aquarium, he picked it up for some reason, following some fish-like impulse, and heard the voice of Bill Evans saying, "I’ve got to talk to you, man." (The Identity Club, p. 11)
Okay, the aquarium sounded good, but it goes downhill from there. "Then, finally, a change." A phone ringing is a change? I suppose it could be, in comparison with the phone not ringing. "He picked it up for some reason, following some fish-like impulse…" Well that’s a new one on me; that fish can’t resist picking up the phone.
It’s just not careful writing–even though the author is the winner of several Pushcart Prizes and has published 11 books and is a Professor of English and editor of a literary magazine. It’s hard for us writers, working hard to learn and improve our skills to face consistent rejection in a tough market, to find something like this in among the twenty–that’s twenty–best American mystery stories of the year.