``Nearly all good writers are `crime writers,' '' contends Freeling, author of 31 crime novels of his own (Flanders Sky, 1992, etc.), in this collection of essays and aperáus on the writers and writings that most interest and influence him. It is a collection as original, insightful, and intriguing as his novels. Although the genre is much maligned, crime writing is, of course, a universal form: Cain murdering his brother; Oedipus searching for the murderer of his father; Shakespeare's heroes murdering each other's souls. Its concern with power, mystery, the ``deep-hidden movement of the heart,'' and, at its best, its careful deployment of language make it a refuge, an often secret delight for intellectuals, politicians (some of whom write crime novels of their own), and those for whom the understanding of power and the nuances of human behavior are most important. In readings enviably perceptive and lyrical, Freeling explores the personal dimensions and secret charms of Stendhal (``the first to see crime in terms of ordinary emotions''), Dickens (who saw crime everywhere), Conrad (praised for the ``architecture'' of his novels), Kipling (``the outstanding prose artist of the English language''), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Dorothy Sayers, and Georges Simenon. He rightly ridicules the ``giant armada of criticism'' that has grown up around Conrad and the institutionalization of Agatha Christie (``the darling of Hungarian students learning English''). Freeling demonstrates the importance of an educated heart as well as a critical vocabulary, of eclectic taste, and, in an eloquent ``Apologia pro vita sua,'' a good mate, in this case his long-suffering wife, whose support prompts him to say, ``the metaphysical nature of woman is the soul of art.'' Freeling here demonstrates that good reading and criticism, like good writing, require the skills of a crime writer, and he has clearly mastered all of them.