The latest edition of this venerable annual seems short (only 12 stories) but isn't. Most of the entries are longish, and nearly all are worth your attention. Editor Hoch isn't afraid of the obvious, and you'll find the winners of this year's Edgar award (Lawrence Block's nasty, sensitive look at a hit man in ""Keller's Therapy""); Robert L. Fish award (D.A. McGuire's ""Wicked Twist,"" whose detective is 12 years old); EQMM Readers Award (""The Ghost Show,"" Doug Allyn's chilly take on the underside of rock impersonators); and the new British Crime Writers' Association award (""Some Sunny Day,"" a Sherlockian pastiche Julian Rathbone manages to pull off while making Holmes and Watson a pair of comically contemporary women). But there are other gems as well: David Ely's disturbingly large-scale web of serial killings, Miriam Grace Monfredo's haunting tale of a modern sorcerer and his little-girl apprentice, Kate Wilhelm's vivid reminiscence of a dangerous college friend, and Donald Westlake's sprightly Christmas anecdote. Though series sleuths, as Hoch points out, are making a comeback, the new detectives by Bill Pronzini (a one-time Pinkerton agent hired to prevent a murder) and Peter Tremayne (a seventh-century Celtic nun) have decidedly offbeat assignments, and in general the whole collection, save only Hoch's own subpar offering, miraculously avoids or transforms the usual suspects. Readers who persist through Hoch's customary appendixes -- a list of the year's best and nearly-best, a bibliography of stories, critical studies, and awards, and a necrology -- will note the deaths of many mystery writers. A tough year for the genre -- if it weren't for the bumper crop of talent represented here.