Doubling the stakes from her current dark thriller Nine (see below), the title enumerates Burke’s complete short stories since 1993. The highly varied menu demonstrates her willingness to tackle a much wider range of crime subgenres than her Irene Kelly novels (Flight, 2001, etc.), though enthusiasm doesn’t always guarantee mastery. Irene and her husband, La Piernas Police Detective Frank Harriman, each get a routine case; the interspersed but unrelated jokes about musicians are the high point of Irene’s. “The Muse” and the Agatha-winning “The Man in the Civil Suit” are content to salute Alfred Hitchcock and Agatha Christie through superficial allusions; the mute avenging spirit in “Ghost of a Chance” seems doomed to an eternal game of Twenty Questions; “An Unsuspected Condition of the Heart” drowns in Regency detail and rhetoric; and “Miscalculation” crams in so much detail about the Queen Mary’s wartime service that it reads like Margaret Truman at sea. Burke’s gifts show to better advantage in her other historicals—“A Man of My Stature,” “The Haunting of Carrick Hollow,” and “The Abbey Ghosts”—because the period trappings don’t overshadow the tonic belief in just desserts that also underlies “The Loveseat,” “Revised Endings,” “Mea Culpa,” and “Why Tonight?” Even better are such tales of forgiveness as “White Trash” and “The Mouse,” both showing Burke at her most distinctively heartfelt, and the chilling “Two Bits,” her darkest take yet on vengeance served cold.
Best of all is the Macavity-winning tour de force “Unharmed,” which distills Burke’s talents into five perfect pages.