Otto Penzler (owner of the Mysterious Bookshop and THE editor of mystery stories) chose 50 stories and selected writer Michael Connelly to winnow the list to the final 20. The initial Penzler criterion is broad: any story in which a crime, or threat of crime, is central to the plot. The stories are generally from small literary magazines (although the first comes from the popular Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine) and there isn't really a bad writer in it. Moments of humor are rare (excepting The Adventure of the Agitated Actress, in which the actor playing Sherlock Holmes is required to solve a crime). Dashiell Hammett appears (War Can be Murder by Mike Doogan) as a detective. The Confession, by Robert McKee, is a straightforward mystery while in Controlled Burn, by Scott Wolven, the protagonist is destroyed by guilt and all crime is off-stage. Death on Denial is comfortably clever. I particularly liked Joyce Carol Oates' The Skull, about a forensic sculptor in love with his Pygmalion, and After You've Gone (John Payton Cooke) about a suicidal cop and the intervention by a very strange suicide help line. The Jukebox (Doug Allyn) is a lovely piece set in 1960 but feels like Chandler era tale of the mob. Walter Mosely's Lavender feels like an excerp from a novel and is not his best work. Elmore Leonard makes an appearance with When the WOmen Come Out to Dance (it's got a nice twist but you expect that with Leonard). My hands down favorite is The Pickpocket by Christopher Cook, a tale that looks at the loss of honor and the pleasure of a well-honed skill -- tone and content blend beautifully in this Paris based tale.
The stories are generally well written and a few are gems. Connolley's introduction suggests that mysteries reassure, by bringing some sense to an increasingly senseless world. I couldn't find much support for that view in his selections: most of the time, the reader is left with a sad confirmation of what is wrong with us. Many of the stories have the dark view of noir fiction: personal failures in a failed world. I would have liked a slightly broader range of stories, and a couple reach for a mood they can't quite sustain (Sockdolager) or an improbable plot (Richard's Children) but most are satisfying and well said.