Book Review: Down These Strange Streets edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois

Down These Strange StreetsDown These Strange Streets by George R.R. Mar­tin
My rat­ing: 4 of 5 stars

This anthol­o­gy gath­ers sto­ries from authors who nor­mal­ly write in var­i­ous gen­res. The com­mon­al­i­ty is that each sto­ry is a mys­tery, and there’s a fan­tas­tic twist to each. Martin’s intro­duc­tion calls such sto­ries the “bas­tard stepchild” of mys­tery and hor­ror.

Char­laine Har­ris’ “Death by Dahlia,” set in the Sook­ie Stack­house uni­verse, is one of a series of sto­ries about the vam­pire Dahlia Lyn­ley-Chivers. Each sto­ry stands alone, but my enjoy­ment grows greater with each addi­tion to her tales. I’d much rather see Dahlia as the main char­ac­ter of a nov­el than Sook­ie, to be hon­est. This sto­ry, set at the par­ty for the ascen­sion of a new vam­pire sher­rif, was a lit­tle gem, and a nice start to the col­lec­tion.

The Bleed­ing Shad­ow” by Joe R. Lans­dale is grit­ti­er from start to fin­ish, set in the south of black folks in the 1950s. A beau­ti­ful woman sends her some­time-suit­or to find her broth­er, a blues musi­cian who has got­ten into music that isn’t of this world. I couldn’t be done with this one soon enough, as it gave me the willies. I have a feel­ing Lans­dale would be hap­py that it stuck with me for a while.

Simon R. Green’s “Hun­gry Heart” takes us to the Night­side, where John Tay­lor is hired by a young witch to retrieve her stolen heart. I haven’t read any of the Night­side nov­els, but this is prob­a­bly the third or fourth short sto­ry I’ve read, and for some rea­son they nev­er leave me want­i­ng more. I don’t hunger for the dark­ness, I guess. I will give Green points for cre­ativ­i­ty in evil hench­men, though.

Styx and Stones” by Steven Say­lor takes a teenage ver­sion of his nov­el hero Gor­dianus on a world tour to see the Sev­en Won­ders of the World, and this stop is Baby­lon. Gor­dianus and his com­pan­ion, Antipa­ter, find a mur­der­ous ghost in res­i­dence near their inn in addi­tion to see­ing the Zig­gu­rat, the Gate of Ishtar, and what’s left of the Hang­ing Gar­dens.

S. M. Stir­ling’s “Pain and Suf­fer­ing” was unsat­is­fy­ing to me. It opened with an ex-soldier’s com­bat flash­back twist­ed into some­thing Oth­er, then we learn that the ex-sol­dier is a cop. He and his part­ner spend a lot of time inves­ti­gat­ing an appar­ent arson and pos­si­bly-con­nect­ed kid­nap­ping. The flash­backs repeat. There’s more, but I don’t want to spoil the sto­ry. I just felt that there was a lot of build-up for very lit­tle pay­off, and that per­haps this sto­ry was meant as a teas­er for a nov­el in which con­text it would all make far more sense.

It’s Still the Same Old Sto­ry’ by Car­rie Vaughn fea­tures vam­pire Rick, from the Kit­ty Norville books. An old friend calls him need­ing his help, but by the time he gets to her, she’s dead. Most of the sto­ry is told in flash­back, with him remem­ber­ing when he orig­i­nal­ly met the now-old-woman, when they were lovers for a time. The mur­der is no great mys­tery for very long. The sto­ry felt more rote than any­thing else, as if per­haps Vaughn want­ed to human­ize Rick a bit by show­ing that he had cared for this woman at one time. I didn’t feel much of any­thing from it.

One of the more cre­ative pieces, “The Lady is a Scream­er” by Conn Iggulden, is told in first per­son by a con man turned ghost­buster. I didn’t like it, pre­cise­ly, and i cer­tain­ly didn’t like the nar­ra­tor. It stands alone, though, and doesn’t feel deriv­a­tive at all, so that says some­thing all by itself.

Hell­ben­der” by Lau­rie R. King is prob­a­bly the only sto­ry that left me deter­mined to hunt down more of the author’s work. I would clas­si­fy it as near-future sci­ence fic­tion, but it cer­tain­ly fits in the noir detec­tive genre as well. I have no hes­i­ta­tion giv­ing this one sto­ry five out of five stars.

Shad­ow Thieves” is a Gar­rett, P.I. sto­ry by Glen Cook. That’s anoth­er series I haven’t read, but I believe this is the first time I’ve read a short sto­ry set in that world. I wouldn’t mind read­ing the series if the nov­els are all light-heart­ed like this sto­ry. There was some dark­ness, obvi­ous­ly, or the piece wouldn’t be in this anthol­o­gy — but over­all, there was humor.

Melin­da M. Snod­grass’ “No Mys­tery, No Mir­a­cle” is prob­a­bly the most con­tro­ver­sial sto­ry in the book if any­body is real­ly pay­ing atten­tion. I found it intrigu­ing and well-writ­ten.

The Dif­fer­ence Between a Puz­zle and a Mys­tery” by M.L.N. Hanover takes us a big city, where an over­worked cop is try­ing to get a con­fes­sion out of a sup­pos­ed­ly demon-pos­sessed killer. He gets help from an unusu­al min­is­ter (Uni­tar­i­an, we’re told — not some­thing that will thrill any UUs out there). I found this one of the most chill­ing sto­ries in the book. Telling you why, how­ev­er, would be a spoil­er.

I would love to see a nov­el fea­tur­ing the main char­ac­ters of Lisa Tut­tle’s “The Curi­ous Affair of the Deo­dand” — a young woman in the Wat­son role and a young man as a Sher­lock Holmes-type con­sult­ing detec­tive. The young lady is every bit as vital to resolv­ing the case as the man is, which is one of the things I enjoyed about the sto­ry. The res­o­lu­tion isn’t as sat­is­fy­ing as it could be, though, which is one of the rea­sons I’d like to see the same char­ac­ters in oth­er cir­cum­stances.

Lord John and the Plague of Zom­bies” by Diana Gabal­don is a Lord John Grey sto­ry. This is, I believe, the first thing I’ve read by Gabal­don. It wasn’t bad and it wasn’t earth-shak­ing­ly good. It was decent­ly-plot­ted with pre­dictable char­ac­ters and a nice lit­tle twist at the end, so enjoy­able to read. I won’t avoid her work but I’m not burn­ing to read more, either.

Beware the Snake” is an SPQR sto­ry by John Mad­dox Roberts. Once again, I’m unfa­mil­iar with the author and the series, but the sto­ry gave enough con­text for me to under­stand the set­ting and the char­ac­ters, so that was all right. It was enjoy­able, although I prob­a­bly would have twigged to a cou­ple of things more quick­ly were I more famil­iar with Roman nam­ing cus­toms.

Patri­cia Brig­gs’ “In Red, With Pearls” is set in Mer­cedes Thompson’s world but fea­tur­ing were­wolf War­ren Smith and his lover Kyle. Kyle is set upon by a zom­bie assas­sin who is thwart­ed by War­ren, but of course War­ren wants to know who sent the zom­bie, why, and who made the zom­bie. It’s a very good sto­ry, as I’ve come to expect from Brig­gs. I had a bit of a hard time keep­ing up with some of the sec­ondary char­ac­ters in the sto­ry, but then I was dis­tract­ed at the time.

The Adakian Eagle” by Bradley Den­ton is a Dashiell Ham­mett sto­ry — as in, Ham­mett is a char­ac­ter. That was inter­est­ing alone, but the sto­ry in gen­er­al was well-told. Spare and hard, as befits one of the main char­ac­ters.

All in all this is a col­lec­tion that I can def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend. There are very few clunk­ers are sev­er­al excel­lent sto­ries. George R.R. Mar­tin and Gard­ner R. Dozois did their jobs very well.

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One Response to “Book Review: Down These Strange Streets edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner R. Dozois”

  1. Robby Gitto Says:
    August 7th, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Good write-up. I cer­tain­ly appre­ci­ate this site. Keep it up!

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