These are stories of P.I.s who keep guns in their handbagsor their bras, of crime victims, homeless women, and housewives whose ordinary lives take a brutal, sometimes fatal twist. This collection brings several brilliant international authors to American readers for the first time, including Amel Benaboura, Irina Muravyova, and Helga Anderle. Mystery fans will also enjoy new works by familiar voices Sara Paretsky, Elizabeth George, Amanda Cross, Ruth Rendell, Antonia Fraser, Frances Fyfield, and many more contemporary masters.
In her introduction to a collection that endorses good politics at least as much as good storytelling, Paretsky tackles the thorny issue of ``what if anything I am doing to acknowledge my duty to other women writers, and to the suffering of women in my own age.'' Fortunately, many entries satisfy both agendas admirably. In Nancy Pickard's "A Rock and a Hard Place," a woman who was raped and shot dreads further violence and hires a PI to prevent three murders that could be imminent. Frances Fyfield hints that some cultural differences can be deadly in ``Nothing to Lose,'' in which an Englishwoman marries a West African and soon begins contemplating his ``lovely funeral.'' One of a few entries in translation, ``Saturday Night Fever'' by Viennese writer Helga Anderle, trails a journalist the night she stumbles on a murder that demands she choose between career and conscience. Less rewarding is Ruth Rendell's ``Astronomical Scarf,'' which follows a scarf from owner to owner and in which Rendell's habitual delicious darkness takes a backseat to mere cleverness. The leadoff story, P.M. Carlson's ``Parties Unknown by the Jury,'' sets the tone of the book: in 1892, a white stage actress finds herself a witness to a Memphis lynching and comes upon Ida Wells at the dawn of her journalism career. Wells, as a woman who writes her way toward equality, is clearly intended as a guiding spirit of this purposeful collection. (June)