Except for the prodigious Edward D. Hoch, Lovesey (The Reaper, p. 218, etc.) is the cleverest contemporary writer of crime short fiction. But unlike Hoch, who’s poured gallons of new wine into the same half-dozen old bottles, Lovesey carves every story from a new piece of ivory. Among the 16 stories on display here, all from the past three years, the whodunits, like the Peter Diamond miniature “The Kiss of Death” and the sturdy title story, are the least memorable. More promising are such apparently open-and-shut tales of intrigue, revenge, or suspense as “Interior, with Corpse” (a painting of a gruesome murder adorns the wall of a Battle of Britain hero’s home), “Dr. Death” (an inoffensive couple is trapped in their home by a demented killer), “The Word of a Lady” (a middle-class wife does some fast thinking when her titled husband flees the scene of a fatal accident), and “The Problem of Stateroom 10” (Jacques Futrelle’s last-minute deductions aboard the doomed Titanic) open up into whodunits, or whodieds. The very best stories—“The Amorous Corpse,” in which the lover of an aspiring post-office robber insists he was making love to her half an hour after he dropped dead at the crime scene, and “The Usual Table,” in which a teasing conversation about a perfect murder has an unexpected sting in its tail—raise invention to an art-form.
A brightly malicious change of pace from the psychological short studies of Ruth Rendell, Ed Gorman, and Lawrence Block.