Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review of Down These Strange Streets

Title: Down These Strange Streets
Editors: George R.R. Marin & Gardner Dozois
Publisher: Ace Hardcover
Formats: Hardback & Ebook
Source: Purchased
Publication Date: October 4, 2011
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Despite its hardcover price, this is one of the better anthologies that I’ve read and well worth the money. The stories are outstanding and varied, and there’s a clear connection between them, as described in the prologue “The Bastard Stepchild,” written by George R. R. Martin. The bastard stepchild to which he refers is Urban Fantasy, an amalgam of the horror and mystery genres, and each of the stories features a mystery and detective of some sort. The anthology includes a total of sixteen stories, plus the prologue by George R. R. Martin. Originally I had planned on only mentioned a few of my favorite stories, but the excellent writing made it difficult to limit this review to only some of the entries. Here a few comments about each of the stories.
1.      “Death by Dahlia” by Charlaine Harris We first met vampire Dahlia Lynly Chivers in the story “Tacky” in My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding, and she’s long been a favorite of mine. In “Death by Dahlia” the vampires have a new sheriff in control of their nest and they’re celebrating his installation with a huge party. When one of the human blood donors is murdered, Dahlia steps in to investigate. I’m not a fan of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse books, but I always enjoy her Dahlia stories set in that world, and this one is no exception. It’s one of the more light-hearted offerings in the collection and is lots of fun. 3.5 out of 5

2.      “The Bleeding Shadow” by Joe R. Lansdale This story has a film noir feel to it, and I loved it. The gritty private detective is asked by a hot dame to look into her brother’s disappearance when a record with some demonic sounding blues arrives at her house with frightening consequences. 3.5 out of 5

3.      “Hungry Heart” by Simon R. Green Another lighthearted addition to the anthology, Green’s contribution features detective John Taylor from Green’s Nightside series. A young witch hires Taylor to recover her heart from her former mentor, but it turns out that the box holding her heart is of interest to many parties. The clever ending and Taylor’s humor throughout made this story a blast. 4 out of 5

4.      “Styx and Stones” by Steven Saylor This story is part of Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series that stars Gordianus the Finder, and while it’s the first of his work I’ve read, it certainly won’t be the last. In this prequel to the series, we witness Gordianus as a teenager visiting the Seven Wonders of the World. When he and his companion Antipater arrive in Babylon, Gordianus is intrigued by the haunting of a nearby temple. While my four years of high school Latin aren’t enough to attest to the historical accuracy of the story, it’s a lot of fun and one of my favorites of the collection. 4 out of 5

5.      “Pain and Suffering” by S. M. Stirling This story had a more paranormal feel to it than many of the others. Cop Eric Salvador finds his nightmares of his time in Afghanistan taking a strange turn when he and his partner investigate a bizarre arson and missing persons case. I enjoyed the story, but the ending felt abrupt and a bit open-ended, making me wonder if this is part of a series I’m not familiar with, although the short intro to the story didn’t indicate that it was. 3.5 out of 5

6.      “It’s Still the Same Old Story” by Carrie Vaughn Set in the world of Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series, this story features vampire Rick, who responds to a phone call from an old friend, only to find her murdered. There isn’t much of a mystery, as Rick knows from the beginning who’s responsible for his friend’s death, but the flashbacks to when they met and how the mystery unfolds make this an enjoyable read. 3 out of 5

7.      “The Lady is a Screamer” by Conn Iggulden Narrator Jack Garner is a charmer of a conman, working as a ghostbuster after years of taking advantage of grieving families by pretending to be a psychic. While he doesn’t seem all that likeable at the beginning, by the end you’ll be rooting for this ne’er do well. This was one of my favorites, no doubt because of the hero’s ability to win the reader over. 4 out of 5

8.      “Hellbender” by Laurie R. King I enjoyed this entry by King that features a private detective who’s more than human. He’s approached by a woman to investigate the disappearance of her brother and seven other missing people. His digging into the mystery attracts some frightening attention, uncovering some disturbing interest into “scientific” developments. I liked how the story and truth about the hero unfolded, plus the twist about the government at the end made me laugh. 4.5 out of 5

9.      “Shadow Thieves” by Glen Cook This is part of Cook’s Garret, P.I. series and almost lost me only a few pages in. Garret is approached by several different parties to recover a powerful artifact, but it’s very unclear who is trustworthy and who’s the rightful owner. The world building was intriguing, but the rough beginning and my lack of connection to the characters made this the weakest of the collection for me. I suspect that if I’d read other books in the series, however, I might feel differently. 3 out of 5

10.  “No Mystery, No Miracle” by Melinda M. Snodgrass Set during the days of the Great Depression, Snodgrass plays with several mythologies and religions while creating a fascinating story. The hero, Cross, is posing as a hobo to look into some suspicious hobo markings that resemble signs from old gods. His investigation has him acting to ensure FDR’s presidential nomination in mysterious ways. This story has some of the tightest writing in the collection. 4.5 out of 5

11.  “The Difference Between a Puzzle and a Mystery” by M. L. N. Hanover Cops call in an exorcist when they discover the body of a young woman apparently sacrificed in some sort of occult ritual. The man arrested for the crime claims to be possessed by a demon, but the real mystery stems from his reaction when confronted by the exorcist. Very intriguing story and I liked the resolution that still left some mysteries unexplained. 4 out of 5

12.  “The Curious Affair of the Deodand” by Lisa Tuttle Set in the nineteenth century, Miss Lane is a gentlewoman seeking employment who finds herself acting as an assistant to a young detective. A man approaches them on his fiancĂ©e’s behalf, asking that they investigate her former fiancĂ©’s death. The story began well, and I was intrigued by the female heroine’s role as Watson, but the ending left me a bit cold. Not badly written, but a little lacking in action or suspense. 3 out of 5

13.  “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies” by Diana Gabaldon I haven’t read any of Gabaldon’s books, which no doubt affected my enjoyment of this story since Lord John is a recurring character in her Outlander series and has his own series. I actually stopped reading and had to pick the story up again later, because it didn’t capture my interest. However, if you’re a fan of her series, you’ll no doubt enjoy reading about Lord John’s adventures in the West Indies, and the various creepy crawlies on the island were almost more frightening the actual zombies. 3 out of 5

14.  “Beware the Snake” by John Maddox Roberts Part of the author’s SPQR series of mysteries set in Ancient Rome, this story was a hoot. Decius Caecilius is asked by Caesar to investigate a missing swamp adder, a sacred being to some powerful allies of Rome. Decius’ dry humor makes light of the mystery, but the ending is a lot of fun, even though the story went by too quickly. As with “Styx and Stones”, I can’t attest to the historical accuracy of the story, but it was so enjoyable I’ll definitely be reading more of this author. 4 out of 5

15.  “In Red, with Pearls” by Patricia Briggs This story is set in the world of Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series and features werewolf Warren, who is a favorite of mine. When his lover Kyle is attacked by a zombie, Warren steps in to investigate. I loved seeing Warren and Kyle together, and this was a tightly written story that draws you in at once. While I figured out the villain fairly quickly, there were several surprises. This is another winner from Briggs and a must for Mercy Thompson fans. 4 out of 5

16.  “The Adakian Eagle” by Bradley Denton The choice to end the collection with Denton’s story was a wise one, as it is outstanding. Set on the Aleutian Islands during World War II and featuring a young private and an older detective (whom you will recognize once you’re well into the story), this mystery will keep you turning the pages. The discovery of a tortured eagle on the island leads to an investigation that exposes all the pitfalls of following orders without question. I loved the setting and the gritty tone of this story. 5 out of 5

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