A pioneering anthology of 22 stories and excerpts by, and mainly about, African-American hands. Though there's naturally a heavy dose of recent work--including brand-new stories by Walter Mosley, Gar Anthony Haywood, Mike Phillips (the lone Brit), Hugh Holton, Gary Phillips, and Percy Spurlark Parker--editor Woods (coeditor, I Hear a Symphony: African Americans Celebrate Love, 1994, etc.) has done an impressive job of unearthing such obscure forebears as Pauline E. Hopkins's locked-room puzzle ``Talma Gordon'' (1900) and Rudolph Fisher's atmospheric The Conjure-Man Dies (1932). The chapter-length excerpts from John A. Williams's The Man Who Cried I Am (1969) and Sam Greenlee's The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1969) are aptly chosen, but it's the short stories that provide the greatest satisfaction here, revealing both the range and the historical reach of the African-American mystery tradition, from Chester Himes's grim account of a condemned killer's last day to Eleanor Taylor Bland's neatly turned whodunit, from BarbaraNeely's unforgettable portrait of a confessed rapist's mother to Aya de Le¢n's welcome bit of comic relief. The most forceful and unsurprising revelation is the way omnipresent racial tension--the subject of most of the stories on display here--imparts a constant undercurrent of criminal suspense to even the work of mainstream writers like Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Richard Wright. A landmark collection no library of crime should be without.