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edited by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block had me at the title. COLLECTIBLES is a new anthology of short stories that he commissioned from some of today’s best fiction writers. As he explains in the Introduction, he was looking for stories that concerned any sort of collectible item. The result is worth losing oneself in.

COLLECTIBLES consists of 17 stories, 15 of which have never seen the light of day until now. “Collecting Ackermans” is one of the two that have. Written and published by Block, it’s a chilling, dark-humored story about an unassuming gentleman who makes the acquaintance of strangers in a unique manner. The other consists of four excerpts, sprinkled throughout the book, that are culled from Otto Penzler’s MYSTERIOUS OBSESSION. Penzler is a book collector, but he is also an indefatigable editor, publisher and bookstore owner. The excerpts are as entertaining as any of the other stories in the collection, as they describe accounts of Penzler finding and acquiring rare volumes. All provide an important intermission that cleanses the palate between the fictitious tales.

"I could go on for pages more, but I won’t. You need COLLECTIBLES in your collection, no matter what form it might take. Most importantly, though, you need to read it."

Many of these stories are written by authors who are well known enough to cause readers to expect one thing and receive something quite different. Such is the case with “Lost Shows,” which is a total surprise. Lee Goldberg hits the sweet spot from an unexpected direction in this tale of a collector of old and rare television episodes who attempts to help an ill and aging TV star who is being held as a de facto hostage in his own home. There are a couple of shocking moments here that will cause you to reread it, especially if you are old enough to remember when there were only three channels to choose from and no way to record anything.

“The Evan Price Signature Model” by Junior Burke opens COLLECTIBLES, and it resonated with me. I am not a musician but am familiar with the market in collectible musical instruments. Here Burke combines the penchant for guitar acquisition with a touch of the supernatural and a bit of selfless behavior to create a story that is just about perfect. S. A. Cosby takes us into the world of car collecting with “Blue Book Value,” in which an unsympathetic protagonist stumbles across a classic car that seemingly has been abandoned on private property. You would be forgiven if you only whisper “no” as this story progresses since there is enough foreshadowing here that the reader likely wants our collector to get his comeuppance and be there when it occurs.

How about unfamiliar authors? I had not read Janice Eidus before, but “A Collector of Friends” is memorable. This is not a genre fiction tale, but rather an account of how relationships change across time and distance for reasons definable and otherwise. It is difficult to pick a favorite, but if I had a gun to my head, this would be on my shortlist, as would “The Skull Collector” by Joe R. Lansdale.

As with many of his stories, Lansdale’s offering concerns an object that someone has and someone else wants. In this case, a woman named Crystal has information that someone else wants so they can acquire an artifact. You will never guess what it is, but it is an exotic and very different item. Lansdale is in top and award-winning form here, in case you were wondering. The sought-after prize in S.J. Rozan’s “Chin-Yong Yun Meets a Mongol” isn’t necessarily exotic, as its value is in the eyes of both the beholder and the possessor. Rozan is a master of the subtle twist and turn, and her story of something quietly desired over decades puts her ability on illuminated display.

There is one story that still whispers to me and in perhaps a slightly louder voice than the others, though they all excel in specific ways. I am referring to “A Bostonian (in Cambridge)” by Dennis Lehane. We are not treated to Lehane’s work frequently, but when we are it is first rate, which perfectly describes this story involving a quiet bookstore owner who collects and deals in rare books. He is confronted with a Hobson’s choice involving his most treasured acquisition and a bit of knowledge that he has wished for his entire life. This could have been a novel but is perfect as a short story and is worth the price of admission to the book on its own.

I could go on for pages more, but I won’t. You need COLLECTIBLES in your collection, no matter what form it might take. Most importantly, though, you need to read it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 4, 2021

edited by Lawrence Block