I don't usually mention forewords or intros, but Ron Scheer has a fascinating essay that kicks off Hardboiled. He argues that hardboiled fiction was born during hard times and has had a renaissance during our current hard times. It's an interesting historical perspective of the genre.
Kent Gowran has a phenomenal entry with "A Small Thing at the Devil's Punch Bowl," a story that made a number of top five lists at this very blog. This is the quasi-surreal tale of Ray Perkins, who goes to Las Vegas searching for the long lost Jed Romweber. He finds some weird stuff there.
Patti Abbott's "Ric With No K" is about a court case involving a girl, her older boyfriend, her insane mother, and a scam. It's a poignant, character-driven piece with a raw sense of pain.
I also dug Ron Earl Phillips' "The Janitor." Mike owns a business cleaning up messes that most cleaning services would shy away from. But when his help doesn't show up, a young war vet named Conny Parker, Mike gets suspicious. He's willing to do what it takes to get him back. A tight, tense story about loyalty with some genuinely likable characters.
"The Second Coming of Hashbrown" is vintage Kieran Shea. A guy on the straight-and-narrow is confronted by a seedy character from his past, Hashbrown, whose just been released from prison. I could listen to these two guys talk at a bar all day long.
Every entry in here is very strong, including Benoit Lelievre's sharp boxing story "Second Round Dive," David Cranmer's gross and funny "Vengeance on the 18th," and Thomas Pluck's short, badass "Black-Eyed Susan." And all this for less than a buck at Amazon.