A stellar collection for a year that hardly deserves it.

THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2020

Award-winning Box, the spirit behind Joe Pickett, chooses “twenty perfect pearls” in the 24th entry of general editor Otto Penzler’s highly regarded series.

Box’s selections are surprisingly sunny considering the monster 2020 has turned into. Many of them celebrate human ingenuity. The title character in David Dean’s “The Duelist” bests a formidable opponent with scant bloodshed. An ambitious woman outwits a sleazy politician in Jeffery Deaver’s “Security.” A wily Texas Ranger rescues undocumented immigrants in James Lee Burke’s “Deportees.” A budding musician foxes her dead neighbor’s rapacious grandchildren in John Sandford’s linguistic tour de force, “Girl With an Ax.” Other tales highlight the strength of family ties, like David B. Schlosser’s “Pretzel Logic,” Michael Cebula’s “Second Cousins,” and Brian Cox’s haunting “The Surrogate Initiative.” Family ties don’t always mean blood ties. Tom Franklin shows a policeman going to the mat for his late girlfriend’s daughter in “On Little Terry Road.” And a surprising stepmom helps Sheila Kohler’s worried schoolgirl in “Miss Martin.” As Rick McMahan demonstrates in “Baddest Outlaws,” however, blood is still thicker than water, and a variety of other substances. The good guys aren’t always good guys, as Richard Helms suggests in “See Humble and Die.” And the bad guys aren’t always bad guys, as Robin Yocum’s aging mobster proves in “The Last Hit.” All in all, this year’s installment inspires hope that right will triumph, as it does in Pamela Blackwood’s aptly named “Justice.”

A stellar collection for a year that hardly deserves it.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-328-63610-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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The first of Woods’ many collaborations to be unquestionably inferior to his solo performances.

JACKPOT

CIA operative–turned-killer Teddy Fay, aka Hollywood producer Billy Barnett, gets his fifth sort-of-starring role in a splashy, muddled thriller set in Macau.

Centurion Studios president Ben Bacchetti and his partner, director Peter Barrington, see no reason why their visit to the Macau Film Festival should be all business. They’re dismayed when their visit to a baccarat table at the Golden Desert Casino and Resort is used as material for a deep-fake video that seems to show them cheating. The video, which has evidently been engineered by Bing-Wen “Bingo” Jo, bids fair drag them into the iron grip of fearsome media/casino mogul Arrow Donaldson, for whom Bingo works off the books on matters concerning digital technology and violence. But Centurion producer Teddy, who’s every bit the equal of Bingo and Donaldson fixer Zhou "Ziggy" Peng put together, is on the case. His improbable sometime partners are Li Feng, the heiress and CFO of QuiTel who’s fighting to keep her company exempt from the U.S. blacklist of competing Chinese telecom corporations suspected of spying, and Millie Martindale, a CIA administrator who’s a lot more resourceful than most administrators you’ll ever meet. The first partnership between Woods and Quertermous is full of casino underlings, biddable cops, fake shootings, and doubles living and dead. But the plot never thickens, and readers confident that Teddy will live to fight, pressure, cheat, and kill another day may be indifferent to the fate of the nefarious forces arrayed against him.

The first of Woods’ many collaborations to be unquestionably inferior to his solo performances.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18845-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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