Sunday, October 30, 2011

Best American Crime Writing 2006

A couple of commenters showed up this month asking about the status of this series, as the 2011 edition does not appear to be available at this time and there's very little information anywhere about if and when it will be coming. I don't know any better than anyone else, but in my poking around I came across a news item about Ecco Press senior editor Matt Weiland leaving for another house earlier this month. It may or may not be related. I have written to HarperCollins, the parent company of Ecco, to see if I can find anything out and will report back if I do. Meanwhile, I'm going to stick with my project of reviewing the series by volume, hoping that it's not about to become a memoriam.

The 2006 edition was edited by Mark Bowden, a journalist and academic who often examines crime in the context of foreign policy and war. He is likely best known for Black Hawk Down, which recounts the 1993 American adventure in Mogadishu in harrowing detail (and was later made into a loud movie by Ridley Scott). This also happens to be the last volume in the series that would be labeled as "Crime Writing"; henceforth, to avoid confusion with crime fiction, it would be known as "Crime Reporting." In a way I was sorry to see this. I think it's a shame that detective and mystery fiction have managed to effectively win the label of "crime writing," relegating true-crime literature to its current awkward, hyphenated, overly descriptive, and somewhat ghettoized status. But I don't doubt the marketing people know best in this. As always, it's a good collection, its pieces as interesting now as the day they were published, although I must say that, this far out, one does wish (somewhat impractically) for a bit longer view in some of the codas—again, that nice sense of wrapping up each piece is one of the best features of the series overall. I'm not sure whether it says more about Bowden (and/or series editors Otto Penzler and Thomas H. Cook) or about the times—probably the times—but there seems to be a bit more attention here than usual to crimes of priests and other Catholic Church officials, in terms of both the crimes themselves and of their subsequent (seemingly massive) cover-ups. Various crimes of doctors and police are also featured, so it may be more of a broader interest in the corruptions of our most important pillars of civilization. In another hallmark of the series, the ridiculous and light-hearted shows up cheek to jowl with the tragic and the horrific. A thoughtful and searching examination of the Emmett Till story and its long aftermath by Richard Rubin from the "New York Times Magazine" is here as well as a strange story by Skip Hollandsworth from the "Texas Monthly" about a serial bank robber known as Cowboy Bob who was actually a woman. My favorite piece in this one was once again the last—I'm starting to think they may save the best for last as a matter of policy. "The Great Mojave Manhunt" by Deanne Stillman appeared originally in "Rolling Stone" and tells the story of the capture of one Donald Kueck, a desert outlaw with a long history of bad blood with authorities taken down with considerable prejudice. The echoes of Waco are unmistakable. When police finally reached his body it was so thoroughly burnt that it crumbled when they attempted to move it. Stillman is something of an unusual writer of true-crime, far more poetical and effusive than the usual brisk just-the-facts-ma'am exercises offered up by most of its writers. Her allusive language does not always work, but it certainly does in this case.

In case it's not at the library.

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