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SWEET NOTH­ING By Richard Lange Mull­hol­land, 272 pages, $29

The male cen­tral char­ac­ters in many of Richard Lange’s beau­ti­fully crafted short sto­ries col­lected in Sweet Noth­ing tend to be jerks. They live in Los An­ge­les, are in their early 30s and present them­selves as cool in style. They also ad­mit they come up short in ev­ery­day morals.

“I need to hear what a rot­ten bas­tard I am,” the un­named nar­ra­tor says in the story ti­tled “Gather Dark­ness,” “be­cause part of me still isn’t con­vinced.”

In an or­di­nary week in this guy’s life, he cheats on his wife, swipes a bot­tle of Xanax from a friend’s medicine cabi­net and tells smooth lies to head off his un­veil­ing as a cheat and a thief.

De­ceit is part of the pack­age for sev­eral of Lange’s male char­ac­ters. Un­truths and con­cocted sto­ries fall eas­ily from the lips of the nar­ra­tor, also un­named, of “The 100-to-1 Club.” Gam­bling — cards, horse races, dice — con­sumes this guy’s days and his cash. When he takes a young woman to the track, he needs to call on a se­ries of pre­var­i­ca­tions to con­ceal the dis­as­trous bets he places with her money and his. Like the char­ac­ters in other sto­ries, the guy is not un­aware of his own flaws.

“I’m the one,” he says, “who’s rot­ten through and through.”

Th­ese sad and hope­less char­ac­ters are part of what Lange calls “a uni­ver­sal melan­choly.” He thinks Sa­muel Beck­ett is the writer who best cap­tures the essence of peo­ple con­sumed by melan­choly. Beck­ett is Lange’s ma­jor writ­ing in­flu­ence, but judg­ing from the ca­sual elo­quence of his sto­ries, Lange has al­ready earned a place close to Beck­ett’s el­e­vated com­pany.

THE BEAT GOES ON By Ian Rankin Orion, 454 pages, $28.99

This col­lec­tion is billed as “the com­plete Re­bus short sto­ries,” though Rankin, a writer who rarely takes a day off, may have turned out even more sto­ries fea­tur­ing Ed­in­burgh DI John Re­bus be­fore the col­lec­tion reached print. Rankin tells us in an en­gag­ing 10-page au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal pref­ace that he be­gan his ca­reer, still a kid at the Uni­ver­sity of Ed­in­burgh, writ­ing short sto­ries in var­i­ous gen­res. In his 29 Re­bus sto­ries, he shows a fault­less touch at the short length, a skill he un­der­lines with “Atone­ment,” a heart­breaker of a story pub­lished here for the first time.

THE BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF LOCKED-ROOM MYS­TER­IES Edited by Otto Pen­zler Vin­tage, 944 pages, $29.95

No­body knows more about crime sto­ries than Otto Pen­zler. Over the years, he has pub­lished crime fic­tion un­der his Mys­te­ri­ous Press imprint, sold it at the Mys­te­ri­ous Book­shop in Man­hat­tan and an­thol­o­gized it in a dozen dif­fer­ent col­lec­tions. His an­thol­o­giz­ing hits a peak in the new book, al­most 1,000 pages of sto­ries by familiar au­thors (Edgar Al­lan Poe to Stephen King) and by au­thors whose names have faded but whose work sur­vives.

Are there sur­prises in the col­lec­tion? Plenty. A 1914 P.G. Wode­house story, for ex­am­ple, con­tra­dicts ev­ery im­pres­sion you may have formed of Wode­house’s work.

THE LIFE I LEFT BE­HIND By Co­lette McBeth Head­line, 378 pages, $22.99

Three women nar­rate the novel’s story. One is a De­tec­tive In­spec­tor cov­er­ing a patch of west Lon­don. An­other is the as­sault vic­tim from a few years ear­lier of a man who served time for the crime. And the third has re­cently been mur­dered, per­haps by the guy re­spon­si­ble for the ear­lier as­sault. The state of the third nar­ra­tor — yes, she’s dead — is the book’s par­tic­u­lar con­ceit. McBeth is such a clever sto­ry­teller and so grace­ful a writer that she makes it work. The story raises a bar­rage of ques­tions and keeps the reader pleas­antly off bal­ance from be­gin­ning to end.

Jack Bat­ten’s Who­dunit col­umn ap­pears ev­ery other Sun­day.

The Black Lizard Big Book of Locked-Room Mys­ter­ies

The Life I Left Be­hind

The Beat Goes On

Sweet Noth­ing

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