The Girl, by Megan Abbott (L.A. Noire)
This was my intro to Megan, and she dealt me a wallop that still stings. Hollywood's starlet-chewing machine exposed by one hell of a narrator. Megan's made her bones and doesn't need my praise, but I can't help but give it. In a genre that obsessively defines noir, she shows us with effortless grace the best of what noir can do.
Parnell, by Matthew C. Funk (Shotgun Honey)
Choosing just one of Matt's was the hardest part. Bad Spirits, at Burnt Bridge was a close contender. I think this story at Shotgun Honey distills Matt's talents to white hot moonshine. The brutality of a fresh wound but the heart beneath still pumps hot blood, forcing you to watch. He takes us on a hellride through New Orlean's grimmest battles for survival and leaves us feeling exhilarated for reading about it, and ashamed for tolerating it.
Saying Goodbye, by Fiona "McDroll" Johnson (The Flash Fiction Offensive)
I was sorely tempted to choose Fiona's story in our Lost Children anthology, but this one is even better. Fiona knows people, and more so, knows how to flesh them in our minds with few words. This story was a dream where I was nine years old again, tearing me between the familiar terror of the story and the nostalgic coziness of its embrace.
The Perfect Day, by Patti Abbott (All Due Respect)
Patti never disappoints, and this was my first story of hers. I've read many more since, but kept going back to how well she tells this tale by what we don't see, and how well she portrays a messed up family and how strong its bonds are. This is one of the best I've read in many years, and if writing were a meritocracy it would be in The Best Mystery Stories of this year. Her talent is a living thing, a beast that lays quiet and takes a chunk out of you when you least expect it.
You Dirty Rat, by Nigel Bird (Speedloader, Snubnose Press)
Picking one of Nigel's is always a chore as well. This one was a departure from his familiar territory and shined in a collection of great stories. I'm no veteran, but most war stories smack me in the face as fake right away. Not this one. War is neither loathed nor glorified but merely is, a humanly contrived hell. Nigel finds the most basic of human stories from the reptile brain and tells it lean, with his trademark, sly dark humor.
These were tough choices. A lot of people were lucky that Frank Bill's stories were first published earlier and I couldn't tell which were safe to pick. He'll have to settle for being in my top 5 books of the year.