Sisterhood is powerful in “Family Matters”

In this latest collection of short stories by members of the New York Tri-State Sisters in Crime, editor Anita Page—whose story “Their Little Secret” anchors the antho—has assembled 20 tales from veterans and newbies alike, tying them together thematically with Tolstoy’s famous line about all “unhappy families being unhappy in their own way.”

Each story distills the bitter essence of sick secrets exposed, sibling rivalry unleashed, and patience coming to an end. Kate Lincoln’s visceral “The July Rebellion” blends seamlessly with Leigh Neeley’s “My Brother’s Keeper,” and Triss Stein’s “Eldercare.” The writing throughout the collection is so strong that it comes as a genuine surprise that Ellen Quint’s accomplished and self-assured “Crossing the Line” is her first piece of published fiction. Here’s how her jaded heroine reacts to her latest client:

Millie reached down, opened her bottom desk drawer, pushed aside the Glock and pulled out the tissue box, offering it to her newest client—this mess of a female who had just confessed that she suspected her husband of cheating. Millie knew how this one would end. Of course the putz was having an affair, and of course this sobbing, pitiful woman would be just another friggin’ forgiver. That’s what Millie called them and she could spot them as soon as they crossed her threshold.

These stories all have a distinct and specific sense of place, whether they unfold in the middle of the New York Marathon (Dierdre Verne’s cinematic “Dead Last”) or at a lonely beach house (“Their Little Secret”). Thomas Wolfe famously said, “Only the dead know Brooklyn,” but these writers prove him wrong, with their insider’s look at the borough and other locations in the city that never sleeps.

In addition to a sense of place the stories have an acute sense of time as well, whether it’s an endless holiday slog that strands a narrator on Throg’s Neck Bridge on Thanksgiving or the paranoid Cold War backdrop of Clare Toohey’s “Stealing Home.” Many of the stories are riffs on the recession, adding a dire sense of economic reality to the post-millennial mayhem of the crimes being committed. Money and murder are as inextricably entwined in family matters as the DNA responsible for hair and eye color and hatred begins at home, or so it seems.

Speaking of time and place—Fran Bannigan Cox’s story, “Everything in its Place,” and its depiction of a woman with OCD is a terrific story about a woman whose mania for organization lulls her into a false sense of security.

No time like the present, I always said. I got the twine from the utility drawer in the kitchen. The tape, string, and wire drawer had everything I needed for wrapping handfuls of new cutlery, a separate bundle each for forks, knives, and spoons. Twine for metal things, color-coded string for all others. I’d had a work drawer in every room for ages. No one could say I wasn’t tidy. Nothing worse than things out of place.

After reading this collection, you may find yourself with a renewed appreciation for your own family’s foibles—or at least be profoundly grateful that none of your relatives have a homicidal bent. That you know of.