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.