Given the modest cover price for this cornucopia of 42 tales reprinting material from H.R.F. Keating to Michael Z. Lewin, from Sarah Caudwell to Carol Anne Davis—and including ten new stories by Marc Blake, Mike Phillips, Julian Rathbone, Keith Miles, Peter T. Garratt, Rebecca Tope, Catherine Aird, David Stuart Davies, Amy Myers, and David Wishart—it’s probably ungracious to quibble. But an awful lot of these gems of comic crime aren’t particularly funny. Mark Twain’s two chestnuts are quaintly dated, Nicholas Blincoe’s saga of his mother the bank robber whimsical, Bill Pronzini’s Nameless as Santa Claus charming, Philip Gooden’s Mideastern fable exotic and foreboding, Caudwell’s reworking of Wilkie Collins arch, but none of them is likely to evince more than a dutiful smile. Throwing so many darts at a target, however, guarantees a certain number of bull’s-eyes, and veteran editor Jakubowski, not usually noted for either his terrific sense of humor or his sharp attention to the borders that define genres (The Mammoth Book of Pulp Action, 2001, etc.), has not only rounded up the usual funny suspects—Donald E. Westlake, Simon Brett, Lawrence Block, and a nifty pair of Mat Cowards—but unearthed some unexpected treasures, from the nonstop take-that twists of Peter Lovesey’s epistolary romp to Christopher Brookmyre’s memorably incompetent post-office robbers to the straight-faced absurdity of Alex Atkinson’s “Chapter the Last.”
It’s an equally good bet, then, that nobody will chortle or even simper at every entry and that there really is something for everyone.