Mystery critic Winks (Modus Operandi) asked his favorite mystery writers to answer some of the usual questions about their life-and-work: why they chose the crime-fiction genre; how they were influenced by family background, social forces, other writers; what they think of critics, colleagues, academics, editors, etc. And 11 responded--in rambling, generally chatty essays that range from beguiling to flat to pretentious. The most intriguing personal history comes from K.C. Constantine, author of the Marie Balzic series, who traces his path to mystery-fiction via the Church, Eric Hoffer, and the US Marine Corps. James McClure is also compelling, with the memories of South African childhood (soldier-father, Zulu nanny) that fueled his creation of the Kramer/Zondi police procedurals. (""I welcomed the neutrality of the crime story. . .I could simply write 'the way it was' and leave people to make their own moral judgments."") On the other hand, Joseph Hansen's career-memoir is blandly unrevealing, shedding little new light on his well-known efforts ""to show that homosexuals live in the same workaday world as everyone else""--while Donald Hamilton (the Matt Helm series) concentrates on the business side of the writing game in a brief piece entitled ""Shut Up and Write."" Elsewhere, the focus is often on book-by-book craft: Michael Gilbert offers an analysis, in How-To style, of the differences between ""thrillers"" and detective stories; Tony Hillerman describes, in self-deprecating detail, how he fashions the plot for one of his Navajo Reservation mysteries. Robert Barnard provides a spirited defense of the comic, old-fashioned English tradition. (""Let us not get ideas above our station, or we may miss the train altogether."") Robert B. Parker rather solemnly stands at the opposite extreme, feeling more affinity with A. B. Guthrie than Agatha Christie. (""In each book there is some matter of mortal significance and that is what justifies what might be considered ethically realistic behavior patterns on Spenser's part."") Even more ponderous is Rex Burns' credo: he seeks ""the concreteness of our mutually experienced world, and, through that, to glimpse the resonant, subjective world beneath that concreteness."" Overall, then, like similar compilations in recent years (e.g., John C. Carr's The Craft of Crime), an uneven mixture of opinions, memories, explanations, and details. Similarly spotty is Winks' editorial guidance--which, confined to a thinly diverting introduction, doesn't supply enough basic information about the contributors. (Footnotes are badly needed in a few spots, as when Barnard refers to his novels only by their British titles--a sure source of confusion to US readers.) Still, fans of the writers represented here--the others are Dorothy Salisbury Davis and Reginald Hill--will find enough behind-the-scenes insights and tidbits to make this reasonably browse-worthy.