Select circle: Cox ranks among 'Best' mystery writers of 2020

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

The 2020 version of “The Best American Mystery Stories,” a collection of “twenty perfect pearls” chosen for the annual series by an award-winning and New York Times best-selling author, includes a particularly intriguing legal theme, thanks to the creative touch of Detroit Legal News editor Brian Cox.

The literary gem written by Cox is titled “The Surrogate Initiative,” a fictional story that the author describes as a “sci-fi legal thriller” featuring a plot revolving around the “use of artificial intelligence to create surrogates for jury duty.”

The plot line, however far-fetched in real world terms, struck a chord with those choosing this year’s set of short stories, which are published in the 24th edition of the mystery series created by Otto Penzler.

A University of Michigan alum and renowned editor of mystery fiction, Penzler reportedly selects 50 finalists for publication in the book, a figure that then is whittled down to 20 by best-selling author C.J. Box, the spirit behind the popular Joe Pickett series.

To make the final cut is an honor that is “very humbling,” said Legal News Editor Cox.

In a review by Kirkus of “The Best American Mystery Stories,” Cox receives a special shout-out.

“(C.J.) Box’s selections are surprisingly sunny considering the monster 2020 has turned into,” wrote the reviewer. “Many of them celebrate human ingenuity . . .

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.’

“All in all, this year’s installment inspires hope that right will triumph, as it does in Pamela Blackwood’s aptly named ‘Justice,’” the reviewer added. “A stellar collection for a year that hardly deserves it.”

In his foreword to this year’s mystery collection, series creator Penzler offered special praise to the 20 authors featured in the book.

“The same standards have pertained to every one of the volumes in this important series,” Penzler wrote. “The best writing makes it into the book. Fame, friendship, original venue, reputation, subject – none of it matters. It isn’t only the qualification of being the best writer that will earn a spot on the table of contents; it also must be the best story.”

The story by Cox was first published in the fall of 2019 in “Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.” It now will have an even wider audience as part of the Penzler series that is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the Boston-based publishing giant.

The soft-cover edition, which is available at most bookstores and through Amazon and Google Books, also has been produced in audio form through Audible.

“They released an audiobook version featuring a professional reader who does an amazing job in bringing the stories to life,” said Cox, who has served as editor of The Detroit Legal News since 2008.
“She really adds a dramatic flair to it.”

And Cox should know, since over the years he has been a playwright and theatrical director in his spare time.

For good measure, he also sports a New York Times pedigree. In 2017, the national “newspaper of record” published one of Cox’s crossword puzzles, a work of literary art that carried a “Knock Knock” theme.

No word on whether that theme could appear in a future mystery submission by Cox.

Stay tuned.


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