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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The lavish food descriptions and appended recipes are the best parts of this anemic mystery.

CANDY SLAIN MURDER

Christmas is coming, but so is trouble for South Lick, Indiana.

Robbie Jordan, owner and chief cook at Pans ’N Pancakes, returns from solving a murder in California just in time for the holiday rush, which is complicated more than most Christmastimes by a number of surprises that disrupt her circle of friends. First, her assistant, Danna Beedle, gets a visit from Marcus Vandemere, a young biracial man claiming to be her half brother, an assertion that thrills Danna despite the doubts of some friends and relatives. Next comes a fire that nearly destroys the home of anesthesiologist Dr. William Geller, a racist whose wife, Tina, reportedly left him years ago. When a skeleton turns up in the attic, the not-so-esteemed doctor has some explaining to do. Robbie’s nemesis, Detective Octavia Slade, who recently married Robbie’s former boyfriend, is more willing than usual to accept help from Robbie, who has a knack for finding things out. The next to die is Tina’s twin, Toni, who knew Marcus from karate classes. Toni’s husband is the prime suspect, but Robbie’s convinced the fatalities are connected. With help from her boyfriend and her network of friends, she attempts to clear things up before the killer spoils her holiday by adding her to his list.

The lavish food descriptions and appended recipes are the best parts of this anemic mystery.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4967-2317-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Kensington

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A guidebook to growing old without a single regret for victims who deserved just what they got.

AN ELDERLY LADY MUST NOT BE CROSSED

STORIES

Six more adventures of Maud, the retired language teacher who meets life’s vicissitudes with a refreshingly homicidal approach.

En route to a luxury vacation in South Africa, Maud recalls half a dozen earlier times when her generally untroubled life was threatened by someone who ended up coming to grief. “An Elderly Lady Begins To Remember Her Past” rehashes her latest foray into criminal violence and her satisfying escape from Tursten’s franchise detective, Inspector Irene Huss. “Little Maud Sets a Trap” takes her back to her childhood, when she sticks up for her neurasthenic older sister, Charlotte, by taking condign, though not yet murderous, revenge on the boys who’ve bullied her. “Lancing a Boil” shows how Maud, now a substitute teacher, deals with her demotion when the regular teacher she’s replaced seeks to return to the classroom. “The Truth About Charlotte” recalls Charlotte’s sad demise, which leaves Maud much wealthier and freer to accrue an even larger income and begin her world travels. Maud smartly relieves her longtime neighbor, seamstress Elsa Petrén, of the problems her wastrel son has stuck her with in “The Peter Pan Problem.” And when she finally arrives at her destination in “An Elderly Lady Takes a Trip to Africa,” the longest and most deliberately plotted of these stories, she gets to display an unaccustomed generosity, even magnanimity, to an impoverished family brought even lower by a crime Maud is more than happy to avenge. Readers may want to think twice before sampling the appended naughty-and-nice cookie recipes.

A guidebook to growing old without a single regret for victims who deserved just what they got.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-641-29167-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Soho Crime

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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