Times change, and with it, attitudes about what constitutes decent behavior, both civil and criminal.
But occasionally, out-of-date laws stay on the books for a long time, to sometimes horrifying and sometimes humorous results.
Take these examples from an article posted on LegalZoom in 2009:
- If you ever find yourself driving at night through rural parts of Pennsylvania, state law requires that you stop every mile to send up a rocket signal.
- In Missouri, you can’t drive down the highway with an uncaged bear in your car.
- In Winona Lake, Wisconsin, it is illegal to eat ice cream at a counter on Sunday.
- And in Memphis, Tennessee, women can’t drive a car unless there is a man with a red flag in front of the car warning the other people on the road.
This last one is my favorite for two reasons: One, it’s a law I, apparently, broke repeatedly during a business trip in 2000. Two, while in Memphis, I almost had a wreck when my colleagues started screaming for me to pull over because the red “hot” sign on the Krispy Kreme was lit up (this was quite the novelty for Jerseyans who didn’t have Krispy Kremes back in 2000). In this case, something red was flagging me off the road.
Plenty more of these unfathomable laws still exist. But many equally unfathomable laws no longer due. And thank goodness. As the mother of a four-year-old, I’m grateful Prohibition didn’t stick, for example.
And as a human, I’m even more grateful that laws like those allowing slavery or prohibiting certain races and sexes from voting no longer exist in the United States. (I know they still exist elsewhere.) But I don’t ever want to forget they did exist here, either, lest we doom ourselves to repeat history.
So, when Kristine Kathryn Rusch pitched the idea last year for her latest Fiction River anthology, Past Crime, it was an easy sell.
In her introduction to this incredible volume, Kris wrote: “I wanted stories about crimes that no longer exist. Crimes that aren’t crimes any longer.” Or in the event of a crime that still exists, like murder, she writes: “…the precipitating event had to be based on some historical attitude or law that no longer exists.”
Here’s the synopsis:
Laws change from culture to culture, decade to decade. Strange laws make criminals of ordinary citizens. Like the Massachusetts woman whose brother asks her for help, slave hunters at his heels. Or the Chinese immigrant who finds himself in the middle of a crooked game of Fan Tan. Or the Native American detective searching New York’s Stonewall Bar for a ratfink on the night of a world-changing riot.
Reviewers have already weighed in on Kris’ crime-themed volumes. Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine said Fiction River Special Edition: Crime had “high quality throughout.” And Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine says of Past Crime: “Meeting the exceptional quality of previous anthologies, this collection contains excellent past crimes short stories.”
And although Past Crime marks our second crime-themed anthology (first present, now past), it also marks a first for us. This is the first of two volumes that, through a generous partnership with Mark Lefebvre and Kobo, has a special, extended Kobo-only edition.
I highly encourage you to read both, as Kris has gone to great lengths to make the regular and the special volumes feel like very different anthologies. But if you choose to only read one, buy the Kobo edition. More stories, same price. And if you are a subscriber, don’t worry, that’s the volume you’ll be getting.
I hope you enjoy the latest installment of Fiction River. I know I certainly did.
Allyson Longueira is publisher of WMG Publishing. She is an award-winning writer, editor and designer.