Deadly Anniversaries: A Collection of Stories from Crime Fiction's Top Authors

Image of Deadly Anniversaries: A Collection of Stories from Crime Fiction's Top Authors (Mystery Writers of America Series, 1)
Release Date: 
April 21, 2020
Hanover Square Press
Reviewed by: 

Hopefully your life is so good that the word “diabolical” never need enter your mind or cross your lips.

For the characters in these short stories, however, “diabolical” is more than a word.

The first story in the collection—“If You Want Something Done Right” by Sue Grafton—is especially diabolical. But it exemplifies the anthology’s theme. Whether a domestic situation or police procedural or any other kind of mystery/crime story, people come up with dastardly ways to destroy each other for reasons ranging from blindly passionate to coldly rational.

It’s almost easier to read a novel by any one of these authors, if only because there’s less psycho diversity to deal with in a single book.

Here, 19 different variations of psycho. The stories cluster into sub-themes, such as cross/double-cross; vengeance; justifiable homicide; the dangers of turning over rocks to see what’s underneath (i.e., curiosity killed the cat); and the hazards of talking to strangers.

Not only are the stories themselves intensely murderous, but also their effect is heightened by the skills of the authors selected to contribute to the anthology. Current masters in the field take their best shot at the assigned subject: anniversaries.

As co-editors Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini (themselves masters, and also contributors to the collection) describe in the Introduction:

“Each . . . involves, directly or indirectly, an anniversary of one kind or another—wedding, birthday, law enforcement, military, sporting event, others rare and sinister. They encompass a wide range of historical and contemporary U.S. settings . . . as well as London and other U.K. locales. The types of stories also differ widely: detective tales featuring prominent series characters, stories steeped in Chinese and Japanese culture, narratives of domestic intrigue, psychological suspense, dramatic irony, black humor, swift action, quiet horror—and for good measure, one with a supernatural twist and another with an appended recipe. Something, in short, for every taste in crime fiction.”

We can consider this collection a smorgasbord, in which each dish is differently delectable. Despite the diversity in flavors, each is terrific in the writing and the story’s powerful effect.

Like all anthologies, Deadly Anniversaries serves two purposes. First, it provides fresh morsels from favorite authors; and second, it introduces us to authors we might not be acquainted with. The combination is sure to appeal to readers who love crime fiction, opening doors to future reading pleasures. For those who read outside this category, it’s an opportunity to sample what crime fiction is all about.

The 19 authors are, in order of the stories: Sue Grafton, Laurie R. King, Lee Child, Margaret Maron, S. J. Rozan, Max Allan Collins, Wendy Hornsby, Jeffery Deaver, Bill Pronzini, Carolyn Hart, Peter Lovesey, Meg Gardiner, Marcia Muller, Julie Smith, William Kent Krueger, Peter Robinson, Naomi Hirahara, Doug Allyn, and Alison Gaylin with Laura Lippman.

These authors were invited to contribute based on this volume’s criteria. The hosting body is Mystery Writers of America, which has published previous collections from its membership over the years. This time MWA is celebrating its 75th anniversary. Member invitees were selected from Edgar Award winners, Grand Masters, and/or MWA presidents. Hence the star-spangled author list.

Meg Gardiner in her story “Unknown Caller” captures a shared thread in the collection: “the law didn’t guarantee justice.” And Julie Smith in “Whodat Heist” captures some of twisted personality types with the observation “she was what would happen if sarin gas and ricin had a baby.”


Combined with “diabolical,” “chilling” is a good word to describe the common denominator of this collection. At the same time, you’ve got to admit these authors have delightfully diabolical minds.

Just don’t take them too seriously during this housebound, teeth-gnashing coronavirus era. These stories are imaginative fiction and intended to entertain, not inspire to action!