The subtitle of this feeble collection is ""Personal Encounters with Crime by Members of the Mystery Writers of America,"" but hardly a third of the 24 entries here really fill that bill. Most of the encounters are no more personal than researching a true crime (as in a 20-year-old piece by Julian Symons now eclipsed by Goodman's Burning of Evelyn Foster, p. 150), riding in the back seat of a police car, or protesting some faintly corrupt local politics. Former newsman Desmond Bagley's account of scooping the assassination attempt on South Africa's Vervoerd is at least lively, and Madelaine Duke's exposÃ‰ of Nazi art-thefts, though more a crusade than an encounter, is at least personal. But the real thing is rare. John Ball (In the Heat of the Night) has his jade collection ripped off in an armed robbery; shifty Lawrence Block reminiscences about ""Getting Busted"" in Mexico; Christianna Brand gives sanctuary to a mendacious but harmless waif; and Don J. Marlowe befriends articulate bank heister Al Nussbaum, who tells us what ""Writing in Prison"" is like. Donald E. Westlake, of course, makes fun of the whole idea--casting himself in the put-on role of plagiarist. Maybe he guessed what dubious and dull results the straining premise here would produce.