Five erudite but meandering and unilluminating essays on a handful of suspense greats--Conan Doyle, Simenon, Hammett, Ambler, and Chandler. Though billed as ""studies in criminal problem solving,"" Eames' well-read rambles are really studies in digression, patching together bits of biography with bits of plot summary with bits of unpenetrating criticism. And four of the five slip into wholesale detours: Sherlock Holmes gives way to the story of 18th-century crook Jonathan Wild, Inspector Maigret drifts into the career of pioneer sleuth Vidocq, Sam Spade bows to a history of the Pinkertons, and Philip Marlowe stands aside for a sketch of the L.A. Police Dept. And Fames' page-by-page style--paragraphs filled with quotations from anywhere and everywhere--adds to the jerky, hard-to-follow rhythm. But above all, most of the perceptions are simply not worth hanging in there for: a foolishly fevered defense of hard-hearted Sam Spade (""Brigid, truly, is a 'cold blooded hussy' ""), a listing of Maigret's character traits, a pointless comparison of Eric Ambler and Sherlock Holmes, and some blinkered pronouncements, like ""With Eric Ambler and Dimitrios, the thriller, the novel of intrigue, grew up."" (Ever hear of Graham Greene?) Not all of Eames' observations are that fatuous, but only dedicated buffs will want to sift through the helter-skelter evidence in order to pick out the few engaging or provocative clues.