Book Review: Dangerous Women

Title: Dangerous Women
Editor: Otto Penzler
Pub: January 5, 2005
ISBN: 044669584X
Published by: Mysterious Press

In almost every story in “Mysterious Women,” someone hunkers down in a bar somewhere and chases away shot after shot or bourbon or whiskey or something similarly corrosive and yet strangely warming. This collection of 17 all-original stories about women who each, in their own special way, captivate, is likewise an acquired taste: strong and unsettlingly bitter going down, and lingering after it is finished.

Unsurprisingly, the compilation is studded with marquee names, and Michael Connelly, Elmore Leonard, Ed McBain and Anne Perry do not disappoint. Nelson DeMille and Jay McInerny both contribute stories, “Rendezvous” and “Third Party” respectively, that run refreshingly counter to their typical fiction. But, as in films, the keenest pleasures of this anthology arise from encountering unfamiliar talent.

 Laura Lippmann’s “Dear Penthouse Forum (A First Draft)” is an utterly chilling recasting of not only the traditional male fantasy, but of the canonical male-oriented mystery in general. I could not rid myself (much as I tried) of the bone-deep disturbing image of her last sentence.

Both Walter Mosley’s “Karma” and the last story in the anthology, Jeffrey Deaver’s “Born Bad,” depict the complex undercurrents of emotion and motive that bring about family tensions, and in keeping with the theme of “Mysterious Women,” of the unfathomable tensions that underlie mother-daughter relationships, as being as deadly as any half-cocked weapon, and weave in Gothic imagery and concluding twists reminiscent of O’Henry as a finishing touch.

This anthology served as an effective reminder that while the mystery genre still may not garner as much immediate respect for its literary credentials, it still holds a monopoly on the singular virtue of persistently enduring in the reader’s mind and imagination, and illuminating universal fears—about the seemingly insurmountable codes of behavior and thinking that divide the sexes, of the futility of keeping secrets, of the search for a faithful love—so effectively and indelibly that we often have no choice but to confront them.

You can read more about “Dangerous Women” including an excerpt in our database.