Criminy Jane; Great Detectives: A Century of the Best Mysteries From England and America, edited by David Willis McCullough. New York: Pantheon Books. 725 pp. $19.95.
By Jane Stewart Spitzer After 10 years at CBS Inc., Jane Stewart Spitzer now reviews popular fiction for the Monitor. ''Detective stories are fun,'' declares David Willis McCullough in the foreword to his anthology ''Great Detectives: A Century of the Best Mysteries From England and America.'' Detective stories are fun, and anthologies of detective stories can be particularly enjoyable for a number of reasons. Detective stories can be read aloud. Many of them are just the right length to start and finish after dinner, before bedtime, or whenever there are a few spare moments in a busy day. An anthology can be dipped into or read cover to cover. It can broaden a reader's acquaintance with the writing of a favorite author or introduce him to a new one. And an anthology of detective stories can be the perfect gift for a mystery-lover (no pun intended). Either Mr. McCullough's ''Great Detectives'' or ''The Penguin Classic Crime Omnibus,'' edited by mystery writer Julian Symons, would make a good gift. ''Great Detectives'' is a hard-cover book that costs about $20. The Penguin is a slightly oversized paperback that costs about $6. McCullough is an American, and more than half the writers he has selected are also American. Mr. Symons is an Englishman, and more than half of his writers are English. Although the focus of each anthology is different, these two volumes complement each other. McCullough's ''Great Detectives'' opens with Israel Zangwill's novella, ''The Big Bow Mystery,'' originally published in 1981. McCullough asserts that Zangwill's novella is ''more obscure and entertaining than Poe or Doyle.'' (Symons, on the other hand, includes stories by both Poe and Doyle in the Penguin anthology.) It surprises me that a book entitled ''Great Detectives'' does not include a Sherlock Holmes story. And there are other surprises in ''Great Detectives.'' McCullough has included a story by Dutch writer Robert van Gulik, who is neither English nor American, although he wrote in English. Agatha Christie is not represented by either Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple, but by a character named George Rowland in ''The Girl in the Train.'' P. D. James is not represented by either Cordelia Gray or Adam Dalgleish, but by a new detective, Charles Mickle-dore, in the never-before-published ''The Murder of Santa Claus.'' It is gratifying to discover that both McCullough and Symons have included relative newcomers P. D. James and Ruth Rendell. Rendell is represented in ''Great Detectives'' by a complete Inspector Wexford novel, ''Death Notes.'' McCullough has also included a second complete novel, Ross MacDonald's ''The Chill,'' featuring Lew Archer. And there are stories featuring such great detectives as Dorothy Sayers's Lord Peter Whimsey, G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown, Edmund Crispin's Gervase Fen, Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, and Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade. Although some of his choices are surprising, and not all of the stories feature great detectives, they reflect McCul-lough's taste: His reasons are given in individual prefaces to each story. And as Julian Symons comments in the introduction to the Penguin anthology, ''No anthology is worth much if it does not reflect to some degree the editor's preferences.'' Symons's criteria for the 25 short stories he has chosen were personal enjoyment, ingenuity and imagination, and variety and novelty. His choices are somewhat similar in spirit to McCullough's, although there are no duplicate stories. Many of the great detectives are represented in the Penguin anthology: Father Brown, Hercule Poirot, Gervase Fen, Sherlock Holmes, and Simenon's Maigret. Symons has also included a lesser known Poe story, ''Thou Art the Man''; a Dorothy Sayers story that does not feature Peter Whimsey; and the only story ever published by a South African named Arthur Williams. Symons's choices share with McCul-lough's the quirkiness of personal preference, and it's this quirkiness that makes these anthologies interesting.
The Penguin Classic Crime Omnibus, edited by Julian Symons. New York: Penguin Books. 378 pp. $5.95. Paperback. (Pub. Nov.)