- Introduction by Cathleen Jordan
- Haunted Hall by Donald Honig
- Chinoiserie by Helen McCloy
- The Billiard Ball by Isaac Asimov
- The Bitter End by Randall Garrett
- The Strange Children by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
- A Year in a Day by Erle Stanley Gardner
- The Mezzotint by M. R. James
- The Peregrine by Clark Howard
- Anachron by Damon Knight
- Change for a Dollar by Elijah Ellis
- Rest in Pieces by W.T. Quick
- Lot No. 249 by Arthur Conan Doyle
- Play a Game of Cyanide by Jack Ritchie
- A Kind of Murder by Larry Niven
- Confession by Algernon Blackwood
- The Adventure of the Intarsia Box by August Derleth
- A Question of Ethics by James Holding
- A Hint of Henbane by Frederick Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth
- The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin
The collection of stories brought together in this volume is, we think, a special one. It brings together a wide variety of very good authors, for one thing—from Conan Doyle to Isaac Asimov to Jack Ritchie, winner of the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Short Story of 1981. And for another, it shows the extraordinary range of the mystery story.
Compare, for example, M. R. James's eerie tale of a mezzotint that presented a strange new appearance almost every time its purchaser looked at it with Erie Stanley Gardner's "A Year in a Day" and with Elijah Ellis's "Change for a Dollar." All three are stories of crimes committed—murders, in fact—but each is handled very differently. The most traditional of them, the Gardner, involves straightforward detecting, with something from the future woven in. The Ellis story describes crime in the making, created bit by bit from events apparently insignificant in the great scheme of things but all fraught with anguish and with a nightmarish sense of inevitability; the evil that comes from evil is demonstrated almost clinically, but masterfully. And the James story partakes of the magical and the ghostly; it is full of darkness at every turning, from the deed itself to the nature of the mezzotint to its revelation of the shadowy past. Crime can, it seems, be written about in almost any manner. Jack Ritchie's "Play a Game of Cyanide" is a light and playful story, as its title indicates. Helen McCloy's "Chinoiserie" is full of dreams from a vanished China. And Damon Knight's "Anachron" combines the sense of past, present, and future in so special and unusual a way that they almost become one.
Crime stories can involve, even if only peripherally, ghosts and robots and creatures like Clark Howard's peregrine. They can have to do with postulations from physics as well as foggy days in London; they can turn a criminal act inside out as James Holding does in "A Question of Ethics" or create powerfully the fear of what's-going-to-happen-next as Doyle does with his student of Egyptology, hidden in his room at Oxford. And they can raise interesting problems we have yet to face in crime solving, as Larry Niven demonstrates in "A Kind of Murder." Or for that matter, problems about crimes that still lie ahead of us, as Tom Godwin so movingly shows us in "The Cold Equations."
And among all these other matters, they turn on mystery. Mystery that brings with it a new puzzle, an unexpected and chilly touch, a share of fear. Best—and inevitably, with the mystery story—resolved snugly at home, rainy nights preferred (but not required).
We would particularly like to thank Gail Hayden, for her great help in selecting stories for this volume, and for her unerring sense of the spirit of the collection. In large part, she made it possible.