Every month, the Black Widowers convene for sumptuous food, fine wine, and a cosmically baffling mystery. Attended by Henry, the all-knowing waiter, these gentle rogues ponder such imponderables as:

• the one-syllable middle name that represents what every schoolboy knows, yet doesn’t… • a murder by solar eclipse very far out in space… • a Soviet spy’s dying message utilizing a Scrabble set and a newspaper sports page… • a satanic cult leader’s Martian connection… • a computer criminal’s strange equation of Christmas and Halloween… • an ancient symbol that provides the key to a woman’s mysterious disappearance…

Dip into these wonderfully wizardly concoctions of surprising murder and Asimovian logic that have delighted readers of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.

This is not the strongest of the Black Widower collections, although not the weakest, either.

The problem here is that we have a lot of stories with strained or faintly unbelievable puzzles wrapped inside them, and only a few stories that are genuinely interesting. I like “The Cross of Lorraine”, and “What Time Is It?” is OK, I guess, but none of the other stories particularly stand out in a positive fashion for me. Some, indeed, have distinctly negative overtones. “To the Barest” always struck me as being very odd (I’m not sure why). “Middle Name” asks what every schoolchild knows but doesn’t and has an answer which depends on everybody having to read Silas Marner while going through public schools—only I’ve never read Silas Marner and I didn’t know anybody else who had, either, until my oldest child hit high school.

The Family Man” also falls extremely flat with me, as do many of Asimov’s stories dealing with computers. I’m not sure why; it may be impatience with his use of octal/decimal conversions.

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