Sixteen short tales of crime-and-ironic-punishment from the witty British mystery-master: a brisk, droll first collection, heavy (but only occasionally heavy-handed) on social satire and homicide humor. Barnard's favorite theme here is the extramarital love triangle, usually featuring a cheating wife, but often rising above formula with fresh twists. In ""The Woman in the Wardrobe,"" a recent widower begins in grief, shifts to horror (when he uncovers his late wife's infidelity), but winds up as a somewhat misguided avenger. Elsewhere, the basic adultery setup is textured with closed-circuit video-peeping (""Breakfast Television""), a mâ€šnage trois undermined by pregnancy (""A Business Partnership""), and a cuckolded husband's Iago-like form of retaliation (""The Injured Party""). And ""A Happy Release,"" though predictable, is fast and neat enough to extract modest, grisly amusement from an O. Henry-ish crisscross of murderous betrayal. Some of the entries are over-obvious: an exposâ€š of a Catholic bishop's secret life as blackmailer and sinner; a kidnap-reversal too reminiscent of Ruthless People (among others); caricatured studies in feminist hypocrisy and psychopathology. But many of the weaker entries--an art-market scare, a murder at Oxford--are redeemed by Barnard's fine sense of the ridiculous and his effortlessly crisp narration. So, while not in a league with the stories of Ruth Rendell and other short-form experts, these wry morsels are sure to be gobbled up by devotees of English-style black comedy.