As we all struggle to navigate our new normal, every industry is looking for ways to give back and the crime writing community is no different. Booksellers are suffering – especially our Independent Bookstore Family – so a group of authors have come together to lend a hand. Proceeds from the Lockdown: Stories of Crime, Terror, and Hope During a Pandemic anthology (edited by Nick Kolakowski and Steve Weddle) will support BINC, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation.

In this anthology, a collection of excellent authors have written stories that highlight the challenges of lockdown during a major world pandemic. While not specifically about the Covid-19 pandemic, these tales will feel authentic to everyone as we all now understand what it means to face one of our most formidable enemies – an uncontrolled virus.

These stories run the gamut from crime and suspense to horror – and feature hope, fear, and uncertainty in equal measures. This is a danger that does not discriminate and thus, the stories contained herein reflect the diversity of the human race. We truly are all in this together.

As I do with most anthologies, I will highlight a few of my favorite contributions to help give readers a sense of the variety they will enjoy when purchasing this collection; but rest assured that every story in this collection is worth reading. Every reader will have their own favorites and it will not be surprising to see many of these stories on award short-lists next year.

Here is a bit more about some of my favorites:

It is always a challenge to create a sympathetic anti-hero, but in “Everything is Going to Be Okay,” Gabino Iglesias succeeds in doing just that with Pablo, the Latino deckhand on a commercial fishing vessel who must choose between staying home with his wife as she suffers through the effects of the virus or returning to work on the boat in the hopes of making enough money to aid in her treatment. This story can also be read as a subtle (but effective) commentary on the divide between White America and the Latinx Communities.

In Rob Hart’s “No Honor Amongst Thieves” a married couple sequestered in their home learn that sometimes you cannot keep the enemy outside. Told in three time-periods: Five Minutes Ago, Ten Minutes Ago, and Now, Hart keeps the tension high and provides a satisfying ending that artfully leaves some dangling threads.

The object of “The Rescue” in Scott Adlerberg’s story of the same name is anything but typical, and yet it brings a whole new level of humanity to this world pandemic. Readers will be cheering on the “hero” right up – and through – the shocking and heartbreaking moment at the story’s conclusion. The unique subject matter and quality of writing in this tale is sure to garner the author a whole new following of fans.

Angel Luis Colón uses a second-person narrative to bring intimacy to “Your List.” Much of what is described – the process of assimilating to a “new normal” and the various unknowns that come with that – is likely to be relatable to almost all readers: the worry at every moment (every movement), the fear of everything (of everyone), the suspicion of complacency (of complicity) , and the endless repetition of this cyclical existence…or is it a state of nonbeing? This is a psychologically-astute examination of lockdown mentality and it makes for powerful reading.

Gemma Amor’s “The Diamond” tells the story of group of roommates forced to unexpectedly shelter-in-place for an extended period with one of the guys’ girlfriend. While the group attempts to navigate the challenges of “small quarter” living – especially since one member of the group is sick with the virus – a surprise discovery leads to human nature taking over…in a not so positive way. This one reads like The Thomas Crown Affair meets The Odd Couple by way of Pulp Fiction.

“Personal Protection” from Terri Lynn Coop is the story of Eliana and Josh Delgado, a happily married couple trying to make the most of their lives even though they are both part of the essential workforce during the virus pandemic – she a doctor and he a member of the police force. Coop brings these vibrant characters to life and then systematically shreds the reader’s heart as their unforgettable journey unfolds.

This collection is the perfect home for Nick Kolakowski’s brand of twisted thriller and bleak dystopian noir; except that now “A Kinder World Stands Before Us” seems less pure science-fiction and reads just a bit too much like predictive speculative fiction for this reader. When a former celebrity chef decides to join a commune-like group in an isolated, deserted mansion it seems like the beginning of a new utopia – beautiful surroundings, plentiful food, and the necessary security to keep it all safe. This is a dark, devastating story that feels all too plausible. You know what they say when something is too good to be true…

The tension is palpable from the first moments of “The Loyalty of Hungry Dogs” by S. A. Cosby. As an unfamiliar truck makes its way onto the remote Virginian property belonging to a family of three, it quickly becomes obvious that this group looking to barter for various goods is a danger to the woman and child they encounter. The ensuing tale shines with Cosby’s use of descriptive language and unexpected developments, such that readers will come away from the story relieved that their clench fists and gritted teeth can once again relax.

Jen Conley’s “Fish Food” is a brutal story about the lengths people will go to in order to remain safe – and especially to protect their own. Set after a more vicious second wave of virus infections, Conley paints a world in total disarray, with massive casualties and scarce resources. Readers will connect with the pregnant narrator as she struggles to make moral decisions in a chaotic environment. Conley’s writing style is cinematic, drawing readers in as though they are watching a movie – albeit, a dark and depressing tale.

“Herd Immunity” is another second-person story. This time Eryk Pruitt tells of a group of citizens who remain off-the-grid in total isolation. Pruitt’s skill in structuring the story places the reader in the position of feeling like an intruder – longing to understand this community that seems to be thriving and fascinated by one very special woman living among them. This story feels like a fable passed down for generations – and like those traditional tales, there is a moral here.

“Asylum” by V. Castro features a fair bit of wishful thinking and deserved pay-back. In this story, one Mexican cartel run by a legendary woman has gained control of the Mexico-US border. Felicia ordered completion of the wall and her people use it to manage the influx of asylum-seekers trying to get into Mexico and away from the virus that has ravaged the United States. Castro has manifested a powerful vision of a future where women and children are protected and the color of your skin continues to affect your passage across the border…just not in the way it was originally intended.

This is just a sampling of the stories included in this collection. There are additional works from: Hector Acosta, Ann Dávila Cardinal, Alex DiFrancesco, Michelle Garza/Melissa Lason, Richie Narvaez, Cina Pelayo, Renee Asher Pickup, Johnny Shaw, and Steve Weddle.

And remember, purchasing this book helps our bookseller family!

PRE-ORDER LINKS: Lockdown: Stories of Crime, Terror, and Hope During a Pandemic

Disclaimer: An e-galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the editor. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the anthology.