The worst writing in this anthology comes courtesy of its two editors. Penzler disingenuously notes that the reason nearly half of the 20 entries come from other volumes he edited this past year is that he deemed them superb; and in a mere two-and-a-half pages, Ellroy manages to wallow in all his trademark vices, from hyperbole to purple-tinged melodrama. Once past the editors, however, the writing perks up, kicking off with John Biguenet’s “It Is Raining in Bejucal,” a cautionary fable for lottery winners with old scores to settle. Michael Malone’s “Maniac Loose,” lacing humor with venom as a widow confronts her husband’s mistress, is southern writing at its best. And in the most chilling tale, Fred Melton’s “Counting,” a kid’s skill with a baseball bat, supposedly his ticket off the farm, dooms him instead. Joe R. Lansdale’s quirky “The Mule Rustlers” sets its splashy murders in an equally bucolic scene. The story that makes the volume worth its hefty price tag is Clark Howard’s “The Cobalt Blues,” a deadly glimpse into a radiologist’s waiting room where an alliance between patients leads to multiple crimes. Also on hand are a mystery writer’s confession (Joyce Carol Oates); two wacked-out teens, each more evil than the other (Annette Meyers); one of Jackie Robinson’s finest moments (Robert B. Parker); and half a dozen other forays into baseball and boxing from the likes of Thomas H. Cook, Michael Connelly, Brendan DuBois, and James Grady.
A capacious, varied grab-bag to dip into when you feel the urge for trouble.