Two dozen plus reprints—all dark, some dreary—make up this less than killer collection.
Arranged in no particular order, these 25, winnowed from an archive of thousands similarly gore-drenched, compose an anthology that had every chance to be better than it is. There’s no pesky field-compressing theme to complicate the selection process, yet only a handful generate novelty or excitement. The detestable anti-heroine of Ruth Rendell’s estimable “The Fall of a Coin” could lunch collegially with Messalina and the Borgias. But the story’s signal accomplishment is the biter-bit ending, which is certainly among the genre’s slickest. Brendan DuBois’s “The Dark Snow” is a particularly well-written tale of vengeance extracted and punishment richly deserved. Other offerings are equally distinguished but more familiar. Thomas Burke’s “The Hands of Mr. Ottermole” features a vicious strangler operating in the London fog so friendly to serial killers of yesteryear, and Lord Dunsany’s “The Two Bottles of Relish” manages to be chilling and mordantly funny at the same time. Stanley Ellin, Lawrence Block and Ellery Queen provide solid entries, but you’ve seen them all before. Also represented are those anthology warhorses Poe, Conan Doyle, Christie, Sayers and Dahl. No clinkers among them, of course, but their very inevitability gives the collection that unfortunate thrice-told feeling.
Not much reason for being.