The 26 stories in this drab collection—most of which appeared first in Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, and other mystery magazines between 1958 and 2000—are so uniform in construction that they might have been stamped out in a machine-shop. Since they represent a culling from over 350, the author is obviously a prolific exponent of the O. Henry school of surprise endings. Character and plausibility are seldom issues in a Wellen short. What matters is the manipulation that sets up the climactic zinger, which invariably dies on the vine from lack of engagement. In "Final Acquittal," for instance, a murderer is tricked into a confession. The trick is old hat, and nothing about the murderer is easy to believe. As a result, the obligatory surprise falls flat. In "Inside Evidence," a detective and a junkyard owner conspire to do in a rapist-murderer. But again the puppeteer's strings are fully visible, the characters nothing more than transparent plot devices. One glance at some valuable stamps is enough to turn a heretofore blameless citizen into a savage—for the sake of the biter-bit finish in "Fair Exchange." And so on down a lusterless list. Only in "From Parts Unknown," the longest story here, does Wellen attempt to stretch the form. His enigmatic, single-minded central character, bent on vengeance, is deeply enough conceived to compel attention. And because that's true, the snapper ending actually has some snap to it.
By and large, though, this collection has no spark, no edge, not much reason for being.