Each month the Black Widowers, an urbane club of cerebral adventurers, meets at the Milano Restaurant for dinner. And each month a single guest is invited and subjected to a genial but intense grilling on the meaning of his existence. Inevitably the guest confides some puzzling question or strange occurrence in his life—the inexplicable disappearance of a good luck charm, for instance, or how a four-leaf clover can identify a traitor—tantalizing conundrums that the great Holmes himself would have enjoyed deducing. When the Black Widowers are stumped (as inevitably happens), they turn to their faithful waiter Henry, who serves up perfectly broiled salmon and devilishly clever answers with equal aplomb.

A dozen tales—including two never published before—are included in this fifth Black Widowers collection. Whether the stories revolve around dark horses, homonyms, or mysterious disappearances, all are engaging, challenging, and altogether ingenious.

This is the penultimate the “Black Widower” collection, and I must confess that it has not made much of an impression on me. None of the stories contained plots that I remembered before skimming the book after my first reading, although I definitely remembered them each as I did the skimming.

Here we have twelve stories which, as always, are very cerebral puzzles (the book’s title is very apt). I note that some turn on very trivial points indeed (the first two being “what English word has four homonyms?” and “which element has a unique name?”). The focus of a typical Black Widower story being the puzzle and not the people, that means that the puzzle carries most of the weight for the success (or failure) of the tale. Alas, but the the problems here are simply not as good as the problems in some of the other collections, and the result is a fairly weak anthology.

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