The antagonists who populate these 20 stories are indeed very wicked (no surprise to readers of Weldon's 21 novels, including Worst Fears, 1996), but they're not always women. Both sexes and all ages come in for some merry tweaking by this master of sexual satire--making this outing a familiar pleasure for old fans and a thoroughly satisfying introduction for newcomers. When Defoe Desmond's middle-aged wife confronts him about his affair in ""End of the Line,"" she's covered with white ash (she happens to be cleaning the fireplace), and when she kisses him she leaves the ashy mark of death on his cheek. What better indicator that it's time for Defoe to bail out with the fiendishly seductive Weena Dodds, a New Age Times journalist itching to move into the manor house? Weena is certainly evil (she specializes in married men, taking pleasure in ruining their lives and leaving them begging as she moves on to greener pastures), but there comes a day when even the cleverest siren racks up one too many enemies. On the other hand, it's sometimes the man who turns out to be cold-blooded, as in ""Wasted Lives,"" whose film-executive narrator casually dumps his Eastern European mistress the moment he learns that she's pregnant with his child. In ""Valediction,"" an aging couple's children show their true colors by trying to push said parents out of the family home. And in ""Through a Dustbin, Darkly,"" a ghost works her vengeance by pushing her former husband's young second wife to burn down the house they live in. Every kind of evil that lurks in the heart is gleefully explored in all its permutations here, and somehow it all ends up very cheering--wherein lies Weldon's tremendous talent. Though the stories date from as far back as 1972, and in one or two cases their age shows, there are far more hits than misses in this unsentimental education in the war between the sexes.