, . . Forge, $27.95 (783pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-0851-1

As editor McBain admits in his introduction, it was a bit of a challenge to persuade 10 superstar authors (well, only nine, since he's also a contributor) to each write an original novella, with its awkward length between 10,000 and 40,000 words, for this excellent crime and suspense anthology, but he's come up with an impressive roster. One can't help wondering how a writer like Donald E. Westlake, who writes so much under several names, can fit in a jolly new story, "Walking Around Money," about his humorous burglar hero Dortmunder . And how does Anne Perry, who now writes three separate series and is probably planning another, move to a completely different period with "Hostages," a touching portrait of a woman caught up in the current Irish troubles who tries to keep her sanity by doing household chores? Walter Mosley, on the other hand, seems to be looking for new ways to get his points across: his "Archibald Lawless, Anarchist at Large: Walking the Line" might be the fuse to light a fire. McBain's own "Merely Hate" lends fresh insight into his 87th Precinct series. The remaining novellas, from the ubiquitous Joyce Carol Oates and the welcome return of Lawrence Block's hit man Keller to the diverse pleasures of Sharyn McCrumb and Stephen King, make this hefty volume pound-for-pound the best reading value of the season. Agent, Jane Gelfman at Gelfman-Schneider Literary. $200,000 marketing budget. (May 10)