Except for the juvenilia collected in One Night Stands (not reviewed) and the ten Keller stories in Hit Man (1998), of which Block has chosen three, the 71 tales in this indispensable volume represent the complete short fiction of one of the genre’s giants. Most of the stories are familiar from the three earlier collections reprinted in full—Sometimes They Bite, Like a Lamb to Slaughter (1984), and Some Days You Get the Bear (1993). But Block sweetens the pot with several variable hardcover debuts, including one new story apiece about burglar/bookseller Bernie Rhodenbarr (a clever but transparent locked room), Nero Wolfe wannabe Leo Haig and his sidekick Chip Harrison (a charming in-joke for mystery buffs), genially unscrupulous attorney Martin Ehrengraf (a five-finger exercise), and alcoholic shamus Matthew Scudder (an atmospheric sketch), as well as early studies for the Scudder novels When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (1986) and A Dance at the Slaughterhouse (1991). More consistently rewarding are the five new non-series entries in which Block—like Ed Gorman, his only serious rival among contemporary writers of crime short stories—honors his pulp roots by taking them seriously. Like all the best short stories, each of them, from the badger game turned murderous to the fatalistic ex-con trying vainly to go straight, seems less created than discovered, dug up from dark places and carved to gemlike brightness.
Lots of suspense writers can keep you turning pages far into the night. But how many others can keep you starting story after story, popping just one more poisoned chocolate, hours after you meant to turn out the light?