Friday, December 18, 2020

Short and Sweet…or Scary…or Mysterious too! Guest post by Art Taylor

Our final post of the year comes from Art Taylor, a 7 Criminal Minds alum. Art is the author, most recently, of The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense from Crippen & Landru. You can find out more about his work at

Last week, I started reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol aloud to my wife, Tara, and our son, Dashiell, who’s reminded us that he’s seen the movie but still seems enthralled by each fresh turn of the tale.

Many of us may default immediately to A Christmas Carol when we think of ghost stories set at Christmas, but reading such stories at the holidays are part of a much longer and richer tradition. In fact, one of the best-known Christmas songs, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” has a lyric that I’ll bet many people have missed—about how “there'll be scary ghost stories” alongside those “tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.”

Our own tradition—my wife Tara’s and my own—isn’t actually ghost stories at the holidays, but short mystery fiction (and it’s actually not confined to the holidays but all year round that we read these aloud—naturally, I guess, since both my wife and I write such short stories as well).

When the 7 Criminal Minds invited me to contribute a holiday gift guide with an emphasis on short stories, that tradition of reading stories at Christmas popped to mind—along with several anthologies devoted specifically to holiday tales. For several years now, Tara and I have been sampling several stories each Christmas from The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, a comprehensive and highly recommended anthology edited by Otto Penzler, and our good friend Martin Edwards has also edited a trio of holiday-themed anthologies for the British Library Crime Classics series—Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries, The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories, and most recently, A Surprise for Christmas and Other Seasonal Mysteries—as well as a fourth collection that’s more generally seasonal: Crimson Snow: Winter Mysteries.  

All of these would make great gifts, of course, but not everyone wants to stick to a holiday theme. Here are some other suggestions for exploring the world of the short story, whether this season or all year around:

·         The British Library Crime Classics Series. Martin Edwards is an indefatigable editor—and I mean that literally: I’m not sure when he sleeps. Every month or so, he seems to have edited another anthology. You can find a full list Edwards’  British Library Crime Classics anthologies available in the U.S. here, and let me particularly recommend Blood on the Tracks: Railway Mysteries—because in the midst of the pandemic, I’m sure many of us will take what travel we can get.

·         Crippen & Landru. Washington Post critic Michael Dirda recently called Crippen & Landru “our premier publisher of short stories by classic and contemporary crime writers”—and I’m personally fortunate that this quote appeared in an article featuring my own recent collection, The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74. But even putting personal bias aside, C&L’s collections are extraordinary, whether in the limited edition hardcover editions or in paperback versions, and recent titles include Erle Stanley Gardner’s Hot Cash, Cold Clews: The Adventures of Lester Leith and Edward D. Hoch’s Funeral in the Fog, featuring that most unique detective, Simon Ark.

·         Missing Conferences? The loss of Malice Domestic and Boucheron and other conferences this year has unfortunately contributed to an extra level of isolation for readers and writers both. Reconnect by picking up anthologies from each conference.  This year’s Bouchercon anthology, California Schemin, features headliners Cara Black, Anthony Horowitz, Catriona McPherson, Anne Perry, Walter Mosley, and Scott Turow, alongside a great group of stories chosen through blind submission. (How do I know they’re great? As the editor of this year’s volume, I chose them myself!) And Malice Domestic’s anthology Mystery Most Theatrical arrived in October as well, featuring an equally distinguished group of authors; reading it is almost like running into them in person in Maryland. (I’ve featured several contributors to each anthology at the blog series I curate, The First Two Pages, if you’d like to preview their stories.)

·         In League with Sherlock Holmes. Published earlier this month, this is the latest anthology of new Sherlock Holmes stories edited by Leslie S. Klinger and Laurie R. King. I recently finished teaching a course in Sherlock Holmes, and Laurie King very graciously joined us via Zoom to talk about her own novels and about Sherlock pastiches. I have other anthologies on the shelf that she and Les Klinger have edited previously and look forward to adding this new one as well!

·         Self-indulgence. While this gift guide isn’t supposed to be about me, my own editors would shoot me some side-eyes if I didn’t mention several books to which I contributed in 2020: the novel in stories The Swamp Killers, edited by E.A. Aymar and Sarah M. Chen; The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell, edited by Josh Pachter; and Chesapeake Crimes: Invitation to Murder, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley.

·         Subscriptions to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. The best-known and longest-lasting crime fiction periodicals in history have earned their place of prominence for a reason. Sign up now for a full year of great short stories, delivered straight to your door!

I hope you enjoy some of these suggestions—and thanks again to 7 Criminal Minds for inviting me to return to here for a special post. Happy holidays, and best wishes for a better 2021 for us all!



Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks for dropping in, Art, and for the book suggestions.

All the best for the holidays.

Art Taylor said...

Thanks for having me, Cathy--and everyone! Good to be back, and as I said, happy holidays to all. :-)

joshpac said...

Appreciate the shout-out for The Beat of Black Wings, Art! Happy holidays to all ... and to all a good night!

Cathy Ace said...

Thanks for dropping by, Art - lovely to have you back for a little while! Great recommendations here, and here's wishing you and yours a Happy Everything!

Catriona McPherson said...

These are great, Art. (And ohhh it's lovely to have you back briefly.)

Susan C Shea said...

Agree with your other Minds friends - so good to have you here again. And trhanks - I love the cover and the concept of Blood on the Tracks. It's on my list!