BILL PRONZINI “La bellezza delle bellezze.” First published in Invitation to Murder, edited by Ed Gorman & Martin H. Greenberg (Dark Harvest, hardcover, 1991; Diamond, paperback, February 1993). Reprinted in Scenarios (Five Star, hardcover, 2003).

   The idea behind the anthology Invitation to Murder is to present the reader with a wide variety of stories all based on a single idea: the body of a young girl is found in her apartment. Besides Bill Pronzini’s inclusion, among other authors whose tales are inside are Loren D. Esteman, Joan Hess, Judith Kelman, Nancy Pickard and Andrew Vachss. (Here I’m mentioning only those listed on the front cover of the paperback edition, ones I imagine the publisher assumed would catch a would-be buyer’s eye.)

   Besides settings, genres, moods and presentation, of course as in most collections, the quality of the stories vary widely as well. The detective puzzle stories fare the worst, I’m sorry to say. Joan Hess’s attempt at a locked room mystery, “Dead on Arrival. for example, should have been cleared up in seconds, then a minute more to catch the killer. Well, maybe two minutes.

   The solution to a “dying message” mystery by William J. Reynolds is contrived, and the whole incident would have no chance in the world of ever happening that way. Better are a ghost story “The Life and Deaths of Rachel Long,” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, hauntingly told without quite gelling, and “Darke Street,” by Gary Brandner, a story about an aging cop almost ready for retirement who comes across a strange musty shop on a mostly deserted city street. This is one that could easily have appeared in the pages of the old Weird Tales pulp magazine.

   I especially enjoyed “Invitation to Murder” by Richard Laymon, in which An author with a deadline to write a story for this very same book finds the next door neighbor playing loud music very distracting. The multitude of ideas this writer comes up with before discarding them are better than some of the stories in this book, assuming you can accept the existence of zombies, for example. This one’s a small gem of a tale. I’m not surprised it was used as the title story of the anthology.

   I may have liked Bill Pronzini’s contribution, “La bellezza delle belleza,” even better, however. (Yes, I’m finally getting to it.) Translating the title from the Italian gives us “the beauty of beauties.” This might refer to the granddaughter of an elderly Italian friend of a friend who asks the author’s nameless PI to investigate a money problem she is having with the landlord, but in reality the phrase may apply even more to the changes happening to the city of San Francisco, and the death of the old days in particular. Evocatively done, in terms of both the city and the people in it, and the transition both are forced to undergo.

Added Later:   For what’s worth, the names on the cover of the hardcover edition are Nancy Pickard, Bill Pronzini, John Lutz, and Carolyn G. Hart, authors of the first four stories.