The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns Book Review by Dean Jobb

Mitzi Szereto’s The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns was reviewed by Dean Jobb of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Take a look!

“It is my belief,” Holmes informs Watson in “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches” as a train whisks them away from their familiar urban surroundings, “that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.” Just ask the producers of the television series Midsomer Murders, set in quaint English villages with sky-high murder rates; they have banked on this for years. And author and true crime anthologist Mitzi Szereto, too, has discovered that Holmes was right. When we think of small towns, “we imagine peaceful, close knit hamlets untainted by the dangers of the big city,” she writes in her introduction to The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns (Mango Publishing), but “sometimes the postcard image is tarnished by a dirty fingerprint.”

In Szereto’s latest collection (she also edited 2019’s The Best New True Crime Stories: Serial Killers), fifteen writers offer tales of murder and skullduggery committed in “the smiling and beautiful countryside.” The stories are set in obscure locations around the world, some in towns boasting only a few hundred inhabitants; all are off the beaten track. Never heard of Alger in Washington State, population 400? Szereto’s contribution to the anthology recounts how a twenty-eight-year-old resident went on a shooting rampage in 2008, killing six people. Good luck finding Posorja on a map of South America—the Ecuadorian town where in 2018 a mob of residents, distrustful of the authorities and enraged by false rumors and social-media exaggerations, took the law into their own hands and brutally murdered three suspects being held for a minor robbery. And if you know the way to Leighton Buzzard, ground zero in 1984 for a spate of terrifying home invasions and sexual assaults committed by a truly odious character who became known as “The Fox,” go to the head of the geography class.      

Most of the crimes recreated here were committed in recent decades, but fans of vintage true crime will find a smattering of forgotten cases dating from the 1880s to the 1940s. A writer who grew up in Alexander City, Alabama recalls the case of Rev. Willie Maxwell, the so-called “voodoo preacher” who murdered relatives to collect on life insurance policies (Casey Cep recounted the full story of the crimes and novelist Harper Lee’s fascination with the case in her brilliant 2019 book Furious Hours).

These well-researched, globe-trotting, bite-sized tales are perfect for a lazy summer afternoon – especially at a time when it’s much safer to travel through the pages of a book.

The Best New True Crime Stories

Small Towns (New and Original Stories, Never Before Told, Criminology, for Readers of Unspeakable Acts)

Small towns aren’t always what they seem. We’ve been told nothing bad happens in small towns. You can leave your doors unlocked, and your windows wide open. We picture peaceful hamlets with a strong sense of community, and everyone knows each other. But what if this wholesome idyllic image doesn’t always square with reality? Small towns might look and feel safe, but statistics show this isn’t really true.

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