Nineteen stories featuring women culprits, women victims, women sleuths -- a broad enough category, you'd think, to inspire a more distinctive collection than this. Even such reliable writers as Stanley Ellin, Margaret Millar, and Joyce Harrington are ill-represented here -- in long stories of psychological aberration that belabor their obvious notions. And weaker still are drab tales by Morris Hershman and Joan Richter, or the archly comic efforts of James Yaffe (a detective's Jewish mother as Sherlock Holmes) and Stanley Cohen (""The Ransom of Retta Chiefman""). By comparison, the unpretentious, very short tales-with-a-single-twist come off rather well: Dorothy A. Collins' ""The Kitchen Floor,"" Richard Deming's ""Medicine Woman,"" Richard A. Moore's ""A Matter of Pride,"" Susan Dunlap's ""Double Jeopardy."" And the stand-outs, somewhat by default, become Frank Sisk's characteristically outlandish reworking of the Circe legend -- and an utterly charming Cornell Woolrich relic: ""The Book That Squealed,"" all about a spinsterish librarian who finds a secret code -- and love -- because of her dutiful response to a damaged library book. Nice to meet this 1939 gem again -- but, otherwise, a mediocre gathering that hardly reflects the major, vivid presence of females in mystery fiction.