Edited by Sarah R. Shaber (UNC Press, 259 pages, $15.95)
Raleigh mystery writer Sarah Shaber has outdone herself in gathering good stories for the new anthology, Tar Heel Dead. I was delighted to rediscover the O. Henry story "The Dissipated Jeweler" and found new favorites in Gallagher Gray's "Beauty is Only Skin Deep," Brynn Bonner's "The Soul of Deception," and Michael Malone's "Maniac Loose." Margaret Maron's "The Choice" is a chilling and effective little tale of domestic violence and revenge. The stories here range from the cozier end of the genre to some flights of fancy to psychological mysteries. Perhaps living in the Tar Heel state doesn't really inspire the more "hard boiled" detectives of the large Northern cities, but there's nonetheless some very good writing here — from descriptions to plotting to characterization, these are writers in top form. The one clunker is by sci-fi/fantasy writer and Greensboro resident Orson Scott Card. I enjoyed Card's Ender series, and his stand-alone thriller Lost Boys is a page turner, but "Dogwalker" just never clicked.
Shaber says she didn't want to offer work from just the "obvious modern North Carolina mystery writers" and she has indeed done a remarkable job of digging up some lesser known gems. But our area is home to a number of mystery writers (Cathy Pickens, Mark deCastrique, Daniel Bailey, Jim and Joyce Lavene come to mind and that's not even counting folks with other Charlotte connections like Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell and Jody Jaffe) and it seems a shame they weren't better represented.
With that said, I still highly recommend this anthology — what better way to represent our state, which began with the mystery of the Lost Colony. The clever title, credited to Maron, comes from the UNC "Fight Song": "I'm a Tar Heel born, I'm a Tar Heel bred, And when I die, I'm a Tar Heel Dead."