The book “Down These Strange Streets” (edited by George R. R. Martin) is touted as “urban fantasy” which is something I will take issue with. Several of the stories are by prominent writers of historical fiction and the stories are to me, historical mysteries NOT urban fantasy.
For it to be urban fantasy the stories all need to have the frisson of the unexplained – ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night.
A number of stories fit that category, the vampires in Charlaine Harris’ story “Death by Dahlia” for example. And S. M. Stirling’s creepy story “Pain and Suffering”. But my favourite stories were, in actuality, straight out historical mystery fiction. I have seen all the authors in mystery anthologies many times before. Not to mention having read their full length novels.
Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder as a young man solving a murder in the ancient city of Babylon in the story “Styx and Stones”. A nice story that is more “Hounds of the Baskervilles” in its outcome than “Dracula”.
Diana Gabaldon’s wonderful Lord John Grey is out and about in Jamaica in “Lord John and the Plague of Zombies”. The title explains the story. Never mind Outlander, Diana needs to give us more Lord John.
But the story that delighted me the most was John Maddox Roberts’ story “Beware the Snake” using his delightful creation Decius Caecilius from the SPQR mystery series. This story, whilst having a wonderful mystery involving a stolen sacred snake, (no ghosts, no vampires, no werewolves and no bloody zombies) had some of the funniest laugh out loud moments of any story I have read in ages. Quote:
“The Claudians,” I observed, “are a family of insane hereditary criminals.”
“Look out!” Julia cried. “He has a snake! And he’ll use it!”
Pretty much sums up the book, really.
A good selection of stories, but if you go into expecting urban fantasy you will be disappointed. The creep factor is quite low on the ground and the mystery/crime factor is quite high. But if you enjoy well written short stories, regardless of genre, you will enjoy this book.