Series editor Penzler’s preference for trolling literary journals instead of relying on the usual mystery magazines and anthologies pays big dividends.
Not a single one of the 20 reprints here is a dud. Standouts among the stories produced by mystery veterans are James Lee Burke’s parable of a prison-camp inmate who refuses to box (“Big Midnight Special”); Chuck Hogan’s account of the hamburger that will be a condemned convict’s last meal (“Two Thousand Volrs”); and Kristine Kathrine Rusch’s historical fantasy of a killer whose methodical execution of FBI agents reaches all the way to the top (“G-Men”). But there’s excellent, if more formulaic work by Clark Howard, Rob Kantner, Robert McClure and Michael Connelly. “Free Radicals,” Alice Munro’s unexpected riff on a classic Agatha Christie story, tops the literary side, which provides a good deal more variety: Tom Bissell’s portrait of a modern superhero (“My Interview with the Avenger”); Ron Carlson’s tale of a Guatemalan baseball phenom whose fate is fatally linked to his scout’s (“Beanball”); M.M.M. Hayes’s depiction of a crusty old gentleman’s unusual strategies for coping with change and death (“Meantime, Quentin Ghlee”); Randy Rohn’s droll, creepy account of “The Man Who Fell in Love with the Stump of a Tree”; Jonathan Tel’s story about a trucker whose life is upended by an accusation of rape and murder (“Bola de la Fortuna”); and series favorite Joyce Carol Oates’ “Dear Husband,” the feverish confession of a dying family-killer. N.J. Ayres, Alafair Burke, David Corbett, Nic Pizzolatto, Gary Craig Powell and Vu Tran round out the diverse list.
A choice mix of solid work from mystery specialists and one-shots from authors who’d never want to be identified with the genre.