I preferred some stories over others, of course, but enjoyed 'em all. I've read quite a few volumes from this series over the years and always appreciate the opportunity to read mystery stories by authors known to me and unknown. The excellent writing found in these volumes is, I believe, what first opened my discerning and highly critical mind to the possibilities and pleasures of mystery stories. In the introduction, the series editor, Otto Penzler, often explains and/or apologies for his wide definition of a mystery story, which basically requires a crime or the threat of one and is not at all limited to sleuths. Penzler does it well enough each year, and distinctly enough, that I always read it and never feel like a sucker (It may be similar to what couch potatoes experience when watching reruns, but I doubt it.).
I blurbed about each story without planning to. Shared whatever gems came to mind as I skimmed the contents:
The Hit by Tom Andes: Very good tale about a goofball, told by a hit man.
The Bridge Partner by Peter S. Beagle: Yes, that Peter S. Beagle. He gets away with this because the narrator's bridge partner's modus operandi is hilarious.
Filament by K.L. Cook: Don't get pregnant and drop out of college.
The Funeral Bill by Jason DeYoung: Engaging tale of obsession.
Fifty Minutes by Joe Donnelly and Harry Shannon: A psychotherapist tells the story, maintaining a streak of truly impressive and interesting characters. You will love him.
Man on the Run by Kathleen Ford: Extremely old narrator, realistically portrayed, and kick ass. God bless this writer.
The Other Place by Mary Gaitskill: A narrator looks back. The looking back was written in a way that grabbed my attention more than the story in the past...
Safety by Jesse Goolsby: Unexpected ending. I smiled.
Trafficking by Katherine L. Hester: Visiting the past, visiting a prison.
Soul Anatomy by Lou Manfredo: Very interesting perspective on police.
The Good Samaritan by Thomas McGuane: Narrator likes to end his day working on his ranch. I liked that.
Looking for Service by Nathan Oates: American on business in unnamed Latin American country encounters American backpackers. Communication breakdown.
Dog on a Cow by Gina Paoli: Farmer, flood story within the story. Told by a victim in truly terrifying circumstances.
Vic Primeval by T. Jefferson Parker: Crazy kids. A wrestler. A detective.
Hard Truths by Thomas J. Rice: Historical. Takes place in Ireland in 1958 and seems to capture the times and the tone. Narrated by a boy. The story of his parents.
Icarus by Lones Seiber: Portrays a disturbing ordinariness/hopelessness. Lock your guns away before reading.
Trafalgar by Charles Todd: Historical. Cambridgeshire, 1920. Police procedural, I believe. Atmospheric. Like a condensed novel in its complexity.
Half-Lives by Tim L. Williams: Gritty, realistic, urban, with mafioso and an environmental/social responsibility theme. Unique, I thought. Applause.
Returning the River by Daniel Woodrell: Short, damn near incomprehensible to me, not because of the writing, 'cause of the outlook, which I am still contemplating...
P.S. Besides the stories, there's more fun to be had because they include notes about the contributors, which are often brief bios with short descriptions of how they came to write their stories. I almost always turn to the notes after reading each story, mainly out of envy, sometimes out of awe.