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A New Omnibus of Crime
Edited by Tony Hillerman and Rosemary Herbert
Review by Don Metzler
Oxford University Press, USA Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780195370713
Date: 28 May 2010 List Price $16.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

"I guess you boys will have to play four-handed now," she said lightly as she picked up Carter's .45 off the table. "Unless you can get the farmer to change his overalls."

Then Mabel lifted the pistol casually and shot Lindsay just where his forehead became his bald pate. He went over like an acrobat. Baby Em stepped around the corner with a nickel-plated .32, pressed it against Freddie’s temple, then pulled the trigger twice. She kept pulling the trigger as the gimp toppled sideways out of his chair. Crazy Al went for the piece under his jacket, but Sledge took him down with his first round at such close range that he blew Crazy Al's gun hand off at the wrist and set fire to his dirty tie. Bruno started to raise his hands as if to plead, but Sledge shot him in the face before he could open his mouth.

In 1928, Dorothy L. Sayers put together an anthology of contemporary mystery writing entitled The Omnibus of Crime. It was a collection of stories by the finest crime writers of the time, and has come to be considered a masterwork and a treasure. But by the year 2005, over 75 years after Sayers' landmark anthology was published, it was thought that a new omnibus of crime might be appropriate. After all, during those 75 years, the approach to crime fiction had evolved in ways that Ms. Sayers could not have predicted. For example, where she believed that characterization would always be subservient to plot, over the ensuing decades, the most innovative mystery writers inspired a stylistic revolution that embraced the idea of strong characterization as being one of the most important elements in moving the story forward.

Sayers also believed that subplots involving romance and love interests were inappropriate, would only distract the reader, and had no place in crime fiction. Again, that is an assumption that no longer has any validity.

So a few years ago Tony Hillerman and Rosemary Herbert undertook the task of compiling A New Omnibus of Crime, and the resulting volume is a new treasure, one which no aficionado of mystery writing should overlook. Contained herein are stories by Dashiell Hammett, Frederic Brown, Ross MacDonald, P.D. James, Donald Westlake, John Mortimer, Sue Grafton, Ed McBain, and others. Elmore Leonard is included and, as always, Leonard creeps us out. Tony Hillerman himself is represented by two very short pieces, one from his journalistic period and one from his Jim Chee period. But some of the most striking stories are from authors that many of us may not have previously encountered: writers such as Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Ruth Rendell, Peter Lovesey, Dennis Lehane, and Michael Malone.

Unfortunately, there are two glaring omissions on the list of authors. Neither John D. MacDonald nor Stuart M. Kaminsky are represented in the Omnibus. MacDonald, author of the Travis McGee novels, published numerous short stories throughout the 1940s and 1950s that were a major influence on later writers of crime fiction. And Kaminsky, creator of the Toby Peters and Inspector Rostnikov series, among others, ranks as a giant among contemporary mystery writers. I would like to have seen the Omnibus lengthened by 50 pages or so to allow for inclusion of a story by each of these authors.

That said, there is not one story in this collection that I would have wanted excluded. Each selection contained in this volume is an excellent example of the evolution of the mystery story. Additionally, they are all great reading, and in several cases, unexpectedly gut-rending depictions of the human condition.

A New Omnibus of Crime is a Whitman's Sampler of crime fiction – varied, and wickedly delicious. Must reading for all fans of the mystery genre.

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