Few criminals are driven to their misdeeds because of excessive cold, helpfully observes Deaver (The Vanished Man, above, etc.) in a brief introduction evidently intended mostly to prove that he’s read all 20 of the new stories in this year’s MWA annual. But if the collection lacks a high concept, and the entries aren’t all quite as sizzling as the title promises, there are plenty of incidental pleasures on display. Deaver leads off with a characteristically expert riff that asks which cast member is an escaped sex offender, and the who’s-on-first tales by John Lutz, Gary Brandner, Mat Coward, Tim Myers, Robert Lee Hall, Sinclair Browning, and Marilyn Wallace—all of them depending on finding unexpected holes for the familiar pegs of their characters—are nearly as professional. Carolyn Wheat evokes the Summer of Love and G. Miki Hayden the hell of a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines in more ruminative studies of very different passions gone wrong. Despite Deaver’s rule, freezing temperatures play an unexpectedly prominent role when Loren D. Estleman reveals the hot secrets of a threatened ice-hockey player and Ronnie Klaskin presents a domestic idyll whose offhand last line packs the collection’s biggest jolt. Hottest of all is newcomer Ana Rainwater’s “Night Rose,” a study in the ice-cold hatred between a perfectionist mother and her equally strong-willed daughter.
The perfect antidote for seasonal weather is rounded off by slow burns and fast courtesy of David Handler, Toni L.P. Kelner, Suzanne C. Johnson, Angela Zeman, Jeremiah Healy, Alan Cook, and David Bart.