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by Mark Ammons, Kat Fast, Barbara Ross, and Leslie Wheeler, eds
Level Best Books, November 2010
286 pages
ISBN: 0970098480

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The biggest problem with short story collections, whether in the mystery genre or some other fictional type, is that they tend to be uneven. Sure, there will be a few great stories that stand out, but the rest are usually just fillers. Mostly, it will be a lumpy affair. Not so with THIN ICE. Happily, this group of New England Chapters of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime has collected some of their best stories, without a bad one in the bunch.

Whether the reader enjoys hardboiled or paranormal, forgetful grandmothers or roughneck locals, the characters are uniformly well drawn and the storylines engaging. More than a few twisted endings will make the whole thing even more enjoyable. In particular, the first story, winner of the Al Blanchard Crime Fiction Award, The Bank Job by Bev Vincent, is an excellent example of compelling reading. So too, and somewhat parallel in tone and subject matter, comes near the end with Ray Daniel's Communion. Each revolves around friendships, loyalty, and gritty circumstances with less than angelic characters leading the way.

Even with stories that take a lighter tone, like A Good, Safe Place by Judith Green and Size Matters by Sheila Connolly where the elderly and mall workers dominate, the crimes are intriguing, and readers will find themselves cheering on the savvy underdogs of the story. While these stories may surprise readers with their mild mannered crime fighters, other short stories in the THIN ICE collection surprise in their subject matter or writing style. Hard Fall by Ben Hanstein is great for its internal dialogue, while the brevity of The Book Signing by Kathy Chencharik does nothing to dilute its surprise ending.

So many of the stories are classic in the twists they take, either with the storyline or the endings readers just won't see coming. Whether it's the craving for someone else's shoes or their girlfriend or even just a wall of stone, the fallout is equally unexpected.

For mystery-writers-in-training, there are plenty of examples of great dialogue and captivating characters here to learn from and enjoy while you do. Clearly the editors of this anthology have poured their energy into selecting the very best from the New England area, and they have succeeded, brilliantly.

Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, November 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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