Leading off the pages of this year’s special fall double issue is a new story by Charlaine Harris in which we meet again high-school principal Anne DeWitt, whose presence in her school is more than she lets on—and this time, a student detects her superheroesque role (“Sarah Smiles”).
In honor of the season, some spooky stories spice this issue’s mix, including an ethereal tale by Nicola Hodges set in an old house isolated by a storm (“The Much-Frequented House”) and a chilling new case for Terence Faherty’s Owen Keane (“Ghost Town”), in each of which the protagonist is left with a question about the barrier between life and death. A clever puzzle mystery by J.M. Ramage (“The Spectre of Olsanke Hrbitovy”) takes us to the eponymous Prague cemetery where a logical explanation is sought for nightly apparitions. Ghosts appear with persistence in search of their killers in Val McDermid’s “I Remember Yesterday” and in search of entertainment in Teresa Solana’s lighthearted “The Importance of Family Bonds.”
In other stories, monsters of a more concrete nature lurk in the guise of supposed friends or allies. In “The Hobby Cop” by Doug Allyn (featuring series Detective Dylan LaCrosse) a University police force seems to have been infiltrated by a killer; in “Pussycat, Pussycat” by Stephen Ross two unlikely companions may be on opposite sides of the Cold War; and in “The E-mail Always Pings Twice” by Greg Herren, an unwanted bit of mail raises the worst kind of suspicions about a loved one. Elsewhere, young characters have their first face-offs with the dark side of humanity (see “The Trash-Can Gang” by Tom Tolnay and “The Hard Type” by Carl Robinette). Violence and betrayal also infiltrate the most benign of suburban surroundings in Susan Perry Benson’s “Summer Solstice,” which takes us into the world of quilting, and in Brendan DuBois’s “The Very Best Neighbor.”
Sweeping plots and dramatic settings feature in other stories in this issue, with Marilyn Todd’s “Blood Red Roses” shifting between the Cornish coast (thick with smugglers and soldiers) and Colonial Virginia, and Joseph Wallace’s “Jaguar” taking readers from the jungles of Belize to the streets of Manhattan.
In Bill Pronzini’s “The Gold Stealers,” a new Carpenter and Quincannon story, we descend into an 1890s mine shaft, and in a poignant Black Mask entry by 2014 Edgar nominee Tim L. Williams, “The Last Wrestling Bear in West Kentucky,” we join a father and son—and a bear—in a bar in the back country. Enter if you dare!