After having immersed myself in YA fiction for the CYBIL Awards, I decided to ease back into grown-up reading with this sweet little anthology of mystery and suspense stories written by women. Edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini, heavy-hitters in the crime fic world, these stories run the gamut from classic writers like Mary Roberts Rinehart, Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, and Katherine Mansfield to more contemporary ladies such as Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell, Joyce Carol Oates, and P.D. James.
Anthologies are usually mixed bags, with the stories running from excellent to really, really awful, but this collection doesn’t suffer from that type of poor selection. Each and every story is a gem, a masterpiece of psychological suspense, beginning with the masterful The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes. It’s been many years since I first read this story, and it hasn’t lost its tension one little bit. Lowndes tells the story of the Buntings, an ordinary couple who find themselves with a weathy, mysterious lodger who comes to them during the height of the Ripper murders in London’s East End in the 1880s. Mrs. Bunting knows there’s something not quite right with this gentleman who conducts mysterious experiments in his room, and who regularly burns his clothing. Lowndes does a fine job of revealing only a few details at a time, but just enough to build tangible tension in the household. The climax of the story, as the lodger nearly comes face to face with the one man who would recognize him, is almost a relief for the reader.
Muller and Pronzini have selected the very best of the best stories from all the authors represented. Entries such as The Snail-Watcher by Patricia Highsmith and McGowney’s Miracle by Margaret Millar totally made my skin crawl, while stories such as Cattails by Marcia Muller and The Possibility of Evil by Shirley Jackson skillfully expose the human capacity for evil. If you’re looking for a book you can read leisurely, try this. It will surely keep you up at night!