This is an exceptional anthology; almost all 20 stories are true gems. One is only a semi-precious stone, and that because it suffers in its juxtaposition with another story with a similar plot. The final story in the anthology, John Updike's Bech Noir, is just cut-glass--I can understand it appealing to mystery writers, as it deals with a writer who kills his critics, but it seemed to lower the quality of the book somewhat. Among the very best stories are "Safe", Gary A. Braunbeck's absolutely harrowing semi-autobiographical tale of those left behind by a serial killer; Thomas H. Cook's retelling of a very familiar story, "Fatherhood"; and David K. Harford's Vietnam murder mystery "A Death on the Ho Chi Minh Trail". My favorite was Tom Franklin's "Poachers", a novella in the best tradition of southern fiction about three orphaned brothers without a chance. [If you like Franklin's work, I'd also recommend Lewis Nordan's novel "The Sharpshooter Blues".] What struck me most about this entire anthology was the depth of the authors' artistry. Not only can they tell a mean mystery, but they also create vivid, compelling characters who seem very lifelike. This is difficult enough in a novel, but in a short story it is the sign of an excellent writer indeed. I enjoyed this anthology so much that I made sure to get the subsequent year's, which I'm reading now. The only regret I had about this book was that editor Ed McBain did not contribute more--there is no McBain story, only a clever introduction. I highly recommend this book and I will definitely be looking for Tom Franklin's work again.