Jungle Boogie

Yesterday, much to my delight and astonishment, Raven Award winning mystery reviewer and critic Oline Cogdill included Florida Happens on her annual “best-of” list for 2018. Check it out here, along with some other amazing books.

Being on a list–even merely as the editor of an anthology–with writers like Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott Alison Gaylin, Lou Berney, Jeff Abbott, Alafair Burke, Michael Connelly, and Lori Roy, among so many others, is/was a bit overwhelming. Florida Happens was such a dream project; perhaps one of the easiest open call anthologies I’ve ever worked on (with the caveat that selecting the stories was probably the hardest job; we had such a bounty of riches submitted I could have easily done three fantastic volumes), and all the contributors were dreams to work with, in addition to their exceptional talent and their amazing stories.

It’s also kind of interesting that in a year I sort of dedicated myself to reading and writing more short stories, that the first anthology I’ve done in two years should get such an honor, and it is an honor.  I am still shaking my head in disbelief, but this is a credit to the fantastic stories my contributors wrote. Brava, one and all. (They also were ALL dreams to work with; completely professional and utterly reliable.)

So, here’s another short story I read recently, “From the Queen” by Carolyn Hart, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

Annie Darling shivered as she sloshed through puddles. Usually she stopped to admire boats in the marina, everything from majestic ocean-going yachts to jaunty Sunfish. On this February day, she kept her head ducked under her umbrella and didn’t spare a glance at gray water flecked with white caps and a horizon obscured by slanting rain. She reached the covered boardwalk in front of the shops, grateful for a respite. She paused at the door of Death on Demand, shook her umbrella, and inserted the key.

The chill of the morning lessened as she stepped inside her beloved bookstore. In her view, Death on Demand was the literary center of the small South Carolina sea island of Broward’s Rock. She tipped the umbrella into a ceramic stand, wiped her boots on the welcome mat, and drew in the scent of books, old and new. She clicked on the lights, taking pleasure from the new book table with its glorious array of the best mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels of the month.

I was more than a little surprised–yet pleased–to see Carolyn Hart’s name in the TOC of this volume. She is certainly, if not the queen, a member of the royal court of the cozy mystery. I don’t recall reading Hart before–I do remember meeting her at my one appearance at Malice Domestic; I think we may have even been on a panel together–but she absolutely charmed me with her generosity of spirit and kindness. I’ve always meant to read her work–again, a most prodigious back-list–and have several of her works on my shelves and TBR piles…yet “From the Queen” is my first (I believe) experience reading any of her work.

More’s the pity, too, as this story is carefully and meticulously crafted, completely believable, and her characters drawn so fully, deftly, and completely that I felt I knew them as well as most of my real-life friends and acquaintances. At the center of Hart’s story is an exceptionally rare book–a first edition of Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie that is not only signed but inscribed to the Queen of England (Mary of Teck, grandmother to the current Queen and wife to George V), which only makes it even more valuable. It is come into the hands of a friend of Annie’s, someone who is financially struggling and has no idea of its worth (bless her heart, she thinks it might be worth a hundred dollars) and is quite overwhelmed when Annie delicately tells her that it is not only worth much more than that, but so valuable as to be life-changing. The book is stolen, and it’s up to Annie to figure out who the thief is and get the book back for her poor friend. Wonderful, just wonderful.

And like Elizabeth George did in her story in this volume, Hart liberally sprinkles call-outs to many terrific writers and their books throughout the story, showing off not only her impressive knowledge of the genre but how much she loves it.

That only added to the story’s value for me, but I loved it regardless. Perhaps it’s time to move Ms. Hart higher up in the TBR pile, for certain.

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