Luck of the Draw

Games of chance and skill are the unifying link among this collection of 26 short stories in Win, Lose or Die, drawn from the pages of Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines.

Editors Cynthia Manson and Constance Scarborough chose stories from a diverse cast of authors and styles. Classic cases from Agatha Christie and Anthony Boucher are laid alongside current popular favorites Sara Paretsky and Bill Pronzini. While Ellery Queen’s “The Gamblers’ Club” and ” represents the old-fashioned who-done-it, Ruth Rendell’s “The Man Who Was the God of Love” and Stanley Ellin’s “Fool’s Mate” are longer, psychologically driven tales involving shrewish wives and wormy husbands.

There are even stories with a sting in their tales, like H.R.F. Keating’s “Scrabble Babble Dabble,” about a wife whose husband’s mania for the game drives her to murder. The story would have fit right into the old “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” television show. David Kaufman’s “Mr. Hancock’s Last Game” hints at a deal with, well, if not the devil, then someone in the same zip code, that would make it appropriate for “Weird Tales.”

The collection’s only major weakness is in the lack of explanatory introductions. Short-story collections can be a great introduction to an author’s novels, and while John Steinbeck (whose “The Crapshooter” contains no mystery element at all but is included anyway) and Christie need no introduction, some of the lesser-known authors would have benefited from a few well-chosen words. But overall, “Win, Lose or Die” is a top-notch collection of puzzles and plot devices, an ideal break between chess moves, while the deck is being shuffled, or at halftime.