The best, perhaps, but only of those published in the U.S.; Hoch hasn't looked far to gather these 15 stories--over half come from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. As a result, he may be giving undue weight to the police/tough-guy strain, here represented--often with a good deal of pretentiousness or sentimentality--by Bill Pronzini, Brian Garfield, Robert Colby, James McKimmey, Robert L. Fish, R. L. Stevens (a totally blah kidnap yarn), and a John D. MacDonald mini-novella that ends: ""Cold winds blow through the loveless heart."" Oh my. A good thing, then, that there's some humor around, thanks to Lawrence Block (a wife-murderer prefaces the kill with ""No doubt you know precisely why you deserve this"") and Jack Ritchie, who offers a marvelously deadpan portrait of a pseudo-Sherlock cop who changes his brilliant theory from one minute to the next. Top honors, however, to Geoffrey Bush (an amusing sliver of academia), Paul Theroux (a chapter from The Consul's File), Peter Godfrey (believe it or not, some real detection!), and the remarkable Joyce Harrington: shrewd crime among the adolescent girls in an orphanage-cum-reform-school. The usual bibliographic annual appendices fill out a spotty, so-so volume.