A dozen crime stories by an old hand somewhat short on cunning here. For the most part, the writing is pedestrian, the characters mere plot devices, and the “surprise” endings conscientiously telegraphed. One notable exception: “Hi, Mom,” an effective tour de force in which the psychological profile of a sociopath is revealed through a series of seemingly unrelated items collected by the police after a brutal murder, revealing a gestalt as vivid as it is chilling. Even if you’re repelled by the emerging portrait of a blood-soaked killer, Nolan prevents you from shrugging him off as a monster by presenting those who made him the way he is so inescapably human. Compared to this strikingly sure-handed story, the others are so many spacey notions. In “The Beast of Bubble City,” for instance, Holmes and Watson are reunited on Mars. In “Once Upon a Time,” Snow White goes berserk. “Pirate’s Moon” features a cult of practicing cannibals on loan from New Guinea. And so on. The title story is a sad reminder of the impact that a noir premise—a great-looking dame makes a fall guy out of the man foolish enough to fall for her—can have when managed with care. In the Nolan version, though, the characters are slapdash and derivative: he seems to have forgotten James M. Cain’s insight that noir or not, impact begins with empathy.
Thin and labored: a mostly unrewarding collection from a writer who’s done much better work elsewhere (Sharks Never Sleep, 1998, etc.).