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`Transgressions': Collection of Suspense Novellas Lets STARS Shine

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"Transgressions: Novellas" edited by Ed McBain; Forge ($27.95)


"Transgressions," a new collection of suspense novellas, unites an intriguing group of novelists with a common goal: to each produce a work of roughly 10,000 to 40,000 words. The result is a literary cocktail party where you'll mingle, move on and almost always enjoy your relatively brief encounters.

On the guest list are Lawrence Block; Jeffery Deaver; John Farris; Stephen King; the late Ed McBain, who initiated the project; Sharyn McCrumb; Walter Mosley; Joyce Carol Oates; Anne Perry; and Donald E. Westlake. Yowza!

The first protagonist to greet you is John Dortmunder, in Westlake's "Walking Around Money." Dortmunder and buddy Andy Kelp get clued into a scheme to make easy money, literally, with an ex-con who works at a plant that prints foreign currency. Westlake has built a series around Dortmunder, an endearing, sticky-fingered fellow who'll remind you of a favorite uncle your parents really don't want around the house.

Next up is Anne Perry, whose "Hostages" follows Irish Roman Catholic leader Connor O'Malley on a visit to the seashore with his family. But the Protestant versus Catholic battle takes no holiday, as the unbending O'Malley discovers.

O'Malley is a pleasant soul compared to Oates' creation. Young Jude is a drugged-up, psychotic young teen who kidnaps a flaxen-haired 11-year-old to be part of an Indian ritual in "The Corn Maiden." This, by far, is the most disturbing of the novellas.

Then comes Archibald Lawless, a breath of fresh air courtesy of Mosley. Lawless is an anarchist with connections who is by turns frightening and needy. McCrumb's "Resurrection Man" tells the story of Grandison Harris, a slave who plunders cemeteries in Augusta, Ga., as the porter of a medical college. For Harris, death becomes his life.

McBain's beloved detectives of the 87th Precinct pop in to solve what appears to be a string of hate crimes in "Merely Hate." The trail of suspects leads them from bombed theaters to cab-dispatch offices to mosques. King grapples with the aftereffects of Sept. 11 in "The Things They Left Behind," a tale of survivor guilt. As with all things King, suspend disbelief. It makes the story much more chilling. Farris' "The Ransome Women," the tale of a painter and his mysterious models, reads like a souped-up romance, and Deaver gets creepy with "Forever," a scam that has elderly couples killing themselves so they can be together again through in-vitro fertilization.

Last comes Block's "Keller's Adjustment," in which a hitman has a Catch-22. He's tired of killing people, but in order to quit, he's going to have to kill a lot more of them.

Evan Hunter, who pulled this collection of novellas together under the pen name Ed McBain, died in July of cancer of the larynx. This sterling collection is a fitting tribute to his memory.


(c) 2005, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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