Mitzi Szereto (author of The Best New True Crime Stories) hits all the bases, wholly entertaining you with a wide variety of strong writers.
Written by Stuart D. Monroe
Published by Mango Publishing
Edited by Mitzi Szereto
Stories by David Blumenfeld, Anthony Ferguson, Morgan Barbour, Dean Jobb, Janel Comeau, Mitzi Szereto, Paul Willetts, Tom Larsen, T. Fox Dunham, Paul Williams, Jackie Barrow, David Breakspear, Shashi Kadapa, & Deirdre Pirro
2021, 235 pages, Nonfiction
Released on June 15th, 2021
First impressions are a big deal in all walks of life but especially in literature. Be it fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose, that initial offering on the first page sets a tone. With that in mind, one of my favorite ways to start any book is with a quote (yeah, I read a lot of Stephen King growing up). The newest volume in Mitzi Szereto’s excellent The Best New True Crime Stories series (which includes The Best New True Crime Stories: Serial Killersand The Best New True Crime Stories: Small Towns) opens with one that hits home with serious force for this Southern boy, a quote from the creator of famed sleuth Father Brown, Gilbert Keith Chesterton: “The criminal is the creative artist; the detective only the critic”.
Damn, that’s good stuff.
I’ve long been surrounded by what we now tend to call “hustlers”- family, friends, occasional business partners. Hell, my nose wasn’t always this clean! The less said the better on that score. The point is that the sentiment rings poignantly true. All the good hustlers/cons have one thing in common: the ability to make you believe what they want you to, to make you smile and nod while they take everything that isn’t bolted down and stride boldly away. It’s a natural-born skill you either have or you don’t. Don’t take my word for it, take the word of Henry Rollins. He said it best in his ageless classic, “Liar”:
I’ll lie again and again
And I’ll keep lying
Mitzi Szereto and her partners in crime are offering fourteen tales of liars from across the world and across the centuries that introduces you to some of the most charming villains and scoundrels you’d never want to meet. There are simple folk who had their life changed by rubbing against criminal legends (“Uncle Freddie and Gentleman John Dillinger” by David Blumenfeld). You’ll learn about a real-life Robin Hood you’ve never heard of in a place you’d never expect to find him (“The Bandolero Lojano” by Tom Larsen). As always with a Szereto collection, you’ll learn enough to send you down a few rabbit holes eager to learn more; I will be digging deeper into the tale of ludicrously badass lady pirate Ching Shih (“Ching Shih: The Woman Who Dominated the South China Sea” by Morgan Barbour).
It’s not all bloodless robbery and high seas plundering, however- the Mafia is represented in their own inimitable fashion with the tale of the boss who was the inspiration for Joe Pesci’s unforgettable Tommy DeVito character from Goodfellas , Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo (“Little Nicky: The Tragedy of the King of Atlantic City” by T. Fox Dunham). That one is a standout essay that sounds like Ray Liotta in my head. You get even more Mafia madness complete with a history lesson, murder, and a massive diamond in the crisply written heist tale, “The Monk, the Brain, and the Marlborough Diamond” by David Breakspear. Or you can take your organized crime brutality and popular sway to the other side of the globe with “The Bombay Godmother” by Shashi Kadapa; I promise you’ll want to know more about Jenabai Daruwali. Or you can meet a deadly high-society fame junkie straight out of The Great Gatsby (said story used frequently as a comparative device) who decides strychnine is the way to the top (“The Socialite’s Poisonous Plight” by Jackie Barrow) in a tale that’s told with great flair in a fair and balanced presentation that’s patient enough to let you stew in the audacity of it all.
So, yeah…there’s plenty of murder, too. Never fear.
The theme of disillusionment with the utter bullshit that is the American Dream is a strong one in the lives of many of the criminals who operated here in the United States. In her entry, “The American Dream”, editor Mitzi Szereto opens with what is essentially a mini-essay on the American Dream that is both spot-on and scathing in the best way possible before hitting you with the tale of Lon Perry, a computer programmer in Houston who became the famous “Gentlemen Bandit” after being laid off in an industry bust. It’s relevant as hell and multilayered. It also reminds you that criminals aren’t born; they’re made.
What I truly appreciate about Mitzi Szereto’s collections is that they hit all the bases- you are wholly entertained by a wide variety of writers with strong and unique voices, there’s diversity in both style and substance, and you will learn a lot.
In short, she really knows how to pick ‘em.
4.5 out of 5.0 stars
Well-Mannered Crooks, Rogues & Criminals
From mild mannered coworkers to doting parents. Some might be your jack-of-all-trades friend, or others might be your family member with an altruistic persona. The Best New True Crime Stories: Well-Mannered Crooks & Criminals takes you deeper into the unconventional criminal’s psyche. The ones where their most prominent feature isn’t a bloodied knife, but a bright smile and warm gaze meant to lure their next victim.
Meet the real killers. You’ve heard about John Wayne Gacy. You’ve read about Jeffrey Dahmer. You’ve delved into the Ted Bundy fascination. It’s time for you to meet the infamous Naún Briones, who struck fear into the hearts of the rich, and Freddie Brenman, a notorious street-fighter with mysterious ties to the Dillinger Gang. You’ll find yourself realizing that being nice and friendly is a killer combination.
Edited by acclaimed author and anthologist Mitzi Szereto, The Best New True Crime Stories: Well-Mannered Crooks & Criminals reveals all-new accounts of true crime stories featuring serial killers from the contemporary to the depression-era. The international list of contributors includes award-winning crime writers, true-crime podcasters, journalists, and experts in the dark crimes field such as Tom Larsen, David Blumenfeld, and Anthony Ferguson.