From Lutz's prolific output of crime/mystery short stories (nearly 150 since 1966), writer/critic Nevins has chosen 35--many...

READ REVIEW

BETTER MOUSETRAPS: The Best Mystery Stories of John Lutz

From Lutz's prolific output of crime/mystery short stories (nearly 150 since 1966), writer/critic Nevins has chosen 35--many of them very short--for this collection. Whether they're Lutz's ""best"" is debatable: the most obvious omission is his Edgar-winner ""Ride the Lightning"" (which was expanded into a less effective novel). What's certain is that the editor's selection is far From flattering--since st) many similar stories appear back-to-back, emphasizing Lutz's limited range and his repetition of certain formulas. Nevins calls one section ""Mayhem with a Wink."" Several pieces here generate grisly black-comedy with exaggerations of American business practices: a brutally hard-sell mail-order company; a firm that terminates marriages by arranging ""for the unwanted partner of our client to commit adultery""; assorted assassins and assailants for hire; reductio ad absurdums of discount air fares and how-to-assert-yourself books. All of the entries--many of them short-shorts with twist endings--are briskly done, mildly amusing, if marred by obviousness and Lutz's weakness for puns. But only one--""Dead Man,"" about a rich murder victim solving the crime as he suffocates in a walk-in vault--is both clever and involving. ""Better Mousetraps"" offers longer, more realistic tales. Some feature gothicky secrets and/or psychos (unconvincing, for the most part). Elsewhere, there are death-duel mellerdramas, a neat insurance-scam, a murder-game hunt, and two standouts: ""The Shooting of Curly Dan"" (for real detection); and ""High Stakes"" (for darkly comic murder-on-a-bet). And, throughout, the theme of spouse-murder recurs with almost numbing predictability. Decent, crisp magazine work--no more, no less--but it's far more fun to encounter a Lutz item in an anthology than to read one after another.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1988

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1988