Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel by Josh Pachter

Only the Good Die Young: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Billy Joel by Josh Pachter
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary, Historical
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

From Cold Spring Harbor in 1971 to River of Dreams in 1993, Billy Joel released a dozen studio albums that remade the face of American pop music, produced twenty-six Top 10 singles (on Billboard’s Top 100 and Adult Contemporary charts), and earned the Piano Man six Grammys. Although he hasn’t released a recording of new songs in almost thirty years, Joel’s live performances continue to electrify audiences around the globe—and until COVID-19 put things on hold he had sold out New York’s Madison Square Garden for a record-shattering seventy-four consecutive monthly shows!

In this collection, twelve award-winning writers of short crime fiction tackle the Joel catalog, and the result—edited by Josh Pachter, whose The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell earned rave reviews in 2020—is a journey down life’s mean streets with a soundtrack by one of the great singer-songwriters of our time, and contributors Michael Bracken, Jeff Cohen, David Dean, John M. Floyd, Barb Goffman, James D.F. Hannah, Richard Helms, Robert Lopresti, Jenny Milchman, Terrie Farley Moran, Richie Narvaez, and Pachter himself are donating a third of their royalties to support the work of the Joel Foundation.

In the Gospel According to Billy, only the good die young. Within these pages, though, Death is an equal-opportunity exterminator, and the stories you’ll find here don’t just hit the charts: they go all the way to Number One … with a bullet!

Some mysteries demand to be solved.

“The Entertainer” told the tale of Mercy, a single mother and aspiring singer who worked two jobs to make ends meet. I loved this character from the moment I met her. She’d lead a difficult life and could be a little rough around the edges at times, but she occasionally shared such brave and loving parts of herself with the audience that I couldn’t stop hoping she’d have a happy ending. While I can’t say anything about the mystery portion of the plot for spoiler reasons, I was pleased with how it was revealed as well as resolved.

I enjoyed reading this quite a bit in general, but there were a few stories that I thought would have benefitted from more development. “A Matter of Trust” was one of them. Sergeant Turner’s investigation of a website that claimed to be able to get rid of troublesome spouses once and for all was intriguing, but I was as puzzled by the personal interest he took in the topic as I was by the fast-paced ending that didn’t tie all of the loose ends together as tightly as I would have liked to see. It took me a moment to figure out what happened there. I’m fairly certain I came up with the right answer, but I would have gone with a full five-star rating if these moments of doubt had never occurred for me.

Rick was hired to play an elaborate prank to discourage investors from developing a rural patch of land in “Easy Money.” As soon as I realized this gig was going to be anything but simple for him, I eagerly began waiting for the next plot twist. There were so many things going on behind the scenes that could have changed what happened to Rick. I enjoyed piecing everything together and trying to come up with plausible guesses about how it might end that took all of these possibilities into account.

Only the Good Die Young was a solid anthology that I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of pop rock music or, better yet, Billy Joel in particular.


  1. Thanks for the favorable review! ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG is a followup to THE BEAT OF BLACK WINGS: CRIME FICTION INSPIRED BY THE SONGS OF JONI MITCHELL, which is currently a finalist for the Best Anthology Anthony Award. Both books are available from the usual online mega-retailers, but the publisher (Untreed Reads) has them at a very generous discount.

    • You’re welcome!

      I also reviewed The Beat of Black Wings for Long and Short Reviews but didn’t realize this was a follow-up to it. How neat.

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