"Best New England Crime Stories: Red Dawn." Level Best Books, 2015. 287 pages. $15.95
Reading "Best New England Crime Stories: Red Dawn" is a bittersweet delight. It is the latest in an annual anthology of short crime fiction by New England authors. Multi-published and award-winning writers' work is always included, as well as stunning works by writers never before published.
But "Red Dawn" might also be the last of these anthologies. Level Best Books, a small-press cooperative, has been publishing the collection for 13 years, with editorial management changing only once. Word is still out about whether a new crew will take over the considerable job of winnowing several hundred submissions down to 25 or 30 accepted stories, then compiling and editing the tales, acquiring a cover, and distributing the book. This reviewer, who has had stories in three of the volumes, applauds both sets of editors' dedication to the art. The press has provided a valuable service to New England authors seeking a short story market.
The quality of the stories in "Red Dawn" does not disappoint. The collection opens with John Bubar's "Tell the Others." Bubar is the winner of this year's highly competitive Al Blanchard Short Crime Fiction Contest with his tale of what appears at first to be a hackers' "Survivor" setup on an island. The four debut authors in the volume also contribute compelling stories, especially Sanford Emerson's intriguing taste of possible murder and arson in rural northern Maine, with a clever unresolved twist at the end of "Devious Doings in Dallas."
In Rae Francoeur's tale "Hello," a family uncovers a murder and also finds satisfaction on an icy mountaintop near the Canadian border. Dale Phillips keeps us guessing in "Hope it Fits," the story of a man trying to save his marriage -- or is he trying to end it?
Our favorite single-mother psychopath, "Rhode," is back in "Paradise Lost," with Salem author Margaret Press showing Rhode reluctantly meeting her match. Connecticut writer Ang Pompano's "Bucket List" delivers a nice twist at the end of a story about a wife trying to fire the hit man she'd hired to kill her husband.
Maine author Judith Green, who holds the record for having a story in every Level Best volume, tells her story "Dear Manuel" entirely in text and email messages, with an ending that both satisfies and saddens.
Three of the first set of Level Best editors -- the founders -- contributed a story. Kate Flora's "Nice Guy" delivers a, well, nice guy taking matters into his own hands in the Maine woods. "High Crimes and Slick Misdemeanors" is another Anita Ray story from Susan Oleksiw, a clever tale full of South India atmosphere. Ruth McCarty's "The Wrinkle Curse" gives us a woman trying to flee a curse much worse than wrinkles.
We're treated to four stories from the outgoing editors, too. Leslie Wheeler's "Gone But Not Forgotten" tells of a wife coming to grips with a new discovery after 50 years of marriage. Barbara Ross cleverly writes a story consisting solely of letters to someone named Rose, a tale of a woman who takes extreme measures to get what she wants. In Kat Fast's "The Wedding Gift" a rookie officer tries to solve an apparent crime but isn't quite successful. And Mark Ammons's "Relax, It's Not Loaded" takes the prize for shortest short story ever.
Other talented authors tell excellent stories of mystery and mayhem in the volume, too. This writer hopes the anthology finds new management and continues to be published. Where else can you soak up the environment of the Northeast with all your senses as suspense mounts and you can't wait to turn the page, or read a twist, laugh out loud, and savor storytelling at its best? We should thank all the Level Best Books editors, former and present, for bringing us these tales every year.
Find "Red Dawn" and all the previous anthologies at levelbestbooks.com or contact the press at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Agatha-nominated and national best-selling author Edith Maxwell writes the Local Foods Mysteries and the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Country Store Mysteries (as Maddie Day), and the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (as Tace Baker), as well as award-winning short crime fiction. "Flipped for Murder" and "Farmed and Dangerous" are her latest mysteries. Maxwell lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats, and blogs with the other Wicked Cozy Authors. You can also find her at www.edithmaxwell.com, @edithmaxwell.