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`ONCE UPON A CRIME' IS A 13-IN-1 TREAT FOR MYSTERY LOVERS

Editor Janet Hutchings has collected 13 stories in "Once Upon a Crime" (St. Martin's, $19.95), an appropriate title, since the various tales deal with mysteries of the long ago.

Steven Saylor's "The Lemures," for example, is set in ancient Rome and tells of a patrician lady and a former soldier who are beset, they think, by evil spirits. A man called Gordianus, a learned fellow who solves puzzles, plumbs mysteries and answers riddles, is called upon to find out just what is going on. He does, and the telling of how he does is very entertaining."The Prince Who Was a Thief" by Theodore Dreiser, the only readily familiar author in this collection, is a charming story within a story, and it's completely unlike the realistic writing for which Dreiser is better known.

Easily the best item in this collection is Ellis Peters' "A Light on the Road to Woodstock." It is set in medieval Britain and concerns a powerful noble feuding with a poor order of monks over a valuable parcel of land. The noble isn't above resorting to underhanded means to achieve his objective, and he is only stopped from doing so by an overly inquisitive knight.

Others to be singled out include "Death of a Noverint," by William Bankier, and "The William Shakespeare Murder Case," by George Baxt. The first is concerned with the "murder" of the famed playwright Christopher Marlowe. The second is a very funny account of how women had to resort to murder in order to get stage roles in Shakespeare's day.