Twenty-one stories by the winner of last year's Edgar for Best Novel (A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, 1981), demonstrating his versatility, productiveness, and growth as a writer. Though this is Block's third collection (after Like a Lamb to Slaughter and Sometimes They Bite), focusing on tales written after 1984, it includes four pieces published in the 60's in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Each Hitchcock yarn concerns murder and packs a final twist but no emotional resonance: practice scales, really, played diligently by a writer learning his craft. The later stories show the development of Block's more mature themes. Three series characters appear in them: Bernie Rhodenbarr, a thief who steals nothing of value and is a veteran of five novels (The Burglar Who Liked Mondrian, etc.); Martin H. Ehrengraf, an attorney whose ruthless methods get his clients (accused murderers) off the hook and who appears only in stories; and popular p.i. Matt Scudder. Rhodenbarr's turn, in "The Burglar Who Dropped in on Elvis"--a witty puzzler in which the thief is hired to break into and photograph Elvis's sequestered bedroom at Graceland--highlights Block's lighter vein, which has been drying out lately. The two Ehrengraf stories--which show the lawyer crucifying innocents to defend his clients--demonstrate how Block's earlier irony grew into a sharper mordancy. And the two Scudder tales, as well as several others, reflect his more recent concern with ever-darker subjects. "Answers to Soldier," for instance, tells of a hit man who regularly warms up to his intended victims but inevitably reverts to his cruel ways; and "The Merciful Angel of Death," a powerful exploration of compassion, relates Scudder's tracking of a woman who may be sending AIDS victims to a gentle death. A mixed bag ranging from the hack to the sublime--and, for its best work, a must for Block/Scudder fans.