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 to 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.