Sunday, November 27, 2011

Best American Crime Writing 2005

This edition of the redoubtable series credits James Ellroy with an "Introduction and an Original Essay," which I take to mean Ellroy didn't participate closely or at all in the actual selection of pieces here. I have enjoyed Ellroy's nonfiction work, particularly his memoir My Dark Places, but I'm not much of a fan of his fiction. But you can't blame series editors Otto Penzler and Thomas H. Cook for bringing in the marquee talent when possible, and certainly Ellroy qualifies as that much. His introduction is brief and by the numbers, and the original essay, which pays tribute to Joseph Wambaugh, is pro forma, Ellroy style. I hope the name helped it sell a lot of books and keep the series going. If it would help, I would be happy to see Ellroy do the same again for the 2011 edition, which appears more than ever to have gone MIA. This 2005 edition is in all ways a worthy entry; I haven't yet, I say again, seen the series dip even close to mediocre. This one includes a great long piece from "The New Yorker" by Lawrence Wright (author in 2006 of the exhaustive The Looming Tower as well as a much earlier favorite of mine, Remembering Satan) about the commuter-train bombings in Madrid that took place on March 11, 2004. The bombings killed some 191 and injured hundreds more and were eventually linked indirectly to (that is, inspired by) al-Qaeda. Wright's piece is a fascinating tick-tock that works to unravel the complexity of cultural connections and the very old and often bad blood between Christian and Islamic cultures, persisting more virulently than ever in the Internet age. And speaking of the Internet age, another piece, by Clive Thompson from "The New York Times Magazine," visits the shadowy, intriguing, and often infuriating world of the miscreants who create computer viruses, trojan horses, worms, and whatnot and spread them on the Internet. They're clever about it, often trading on our own worst impulses, and even when someone manages to track them down there is many times little legal recourse. Some seven or eight years old now, it's a bit dated but as interesting as ever. I think my favorite in this volume is another long piece from "The New Yorker" (I tell you, if this series is anything to go by that magazine remains our best source of true-crime literature), by David Grann, which details the mysterious death of Richard Lancelyn Green, "the world's foremost expert on Sherlock Holmes." At the time of his death, Green was embroiled in some kind of intrigue involving highly valuable papers of Arthur Conan Doyle that were to be donated to the British Library but instead somehow ended up going for sale via Christie's auction house. Green was investigating, believing the papers had been stolen, and he was subsequently found dead in his home, with a black shoelace around his neck and a wooden spoon in his hand. It's a mystery and a genuine whodunit, ruled a suicide but with more similarities to the Sherlock Holmes story "The Problem of Thor Bridge" (in which a suicide is deliberately contrived to look like a murder in order to implicate an enemy of the suicide) than to an actual suicide. Case still unsolved if a murder.

In case it's not at the library.

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