Do you like your detective fiction hard-boiled? Does your fantasy reading tend towards the Gothic? Combine the two and you have Mean Streets, a collection of four novellas by Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Kat Richardson and Thomas Sniegoski. Urban fantasy, a new genre with a growing audience, takes fantasy elements and places them in real life, contemporary settings. From what I’ve read of it to date, urban fantasy leans towards the dark, a perfect setting for detective novels.
Mean Streets presents four of the best selling authors in the genre and introduces their popular detective characters: Harry Dresden, John Taylor, Harper Blaine and Remy Chandler. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden is a wizard/detective who works the mean streets of Chicago. While detectives are typically on the outs with the local police, Harry is also on the outs with the local wizardly authorities. In “The Warrior”, Harry must protect an old friend while staying out of the line-of-fire himself. In spite of the use of magic, “The Warrior” remains close to the traditional detective story, things remain relatively reality based.
Simon R. Green takes us into realms far beyond reality, and far beyond the mean streets of London where “The Difference a Day Makes” takes place. Within London, is a darkly magical section mere mortals fear to enter called the Nightside. It’s a very low-rent, Vegas version of Daigon Alley, where anyone can go to find things one wouldn’t want to have or do in the light of day. What happens in the Nightside is supposed to stay in the Nightside. What happens in “The Difference a Day Makes” is closer to David Lynch than it is to Dashell Hammet, but it makes for an entertaining story none-the-less.
Kat Richardson’s “The Third Death of the Little Clay Dog” is the longest piece in Mean Streets which brings up my main problem with fantasy as a genre– length. Visit any bookstore’s fantasy and science fiction and you’ll see many titles coming in at over 1000 pages only to find they’re the first of a series. Mystery fiction rarely reaches the 400 page mark. Ms. Richardson’s novella is good, but it suffers from too much talking. Detectives do have to interview the suspects and one can certainly lead to another, but “The Third Death of the Little Clay Dog” took much longer than it needed.
The final novella in Mean Streets is “Noah’s Orphans” by Thomas E. Sniegoski. Whether or not readers will enjoy Mr. Sniegoski’s work depends on how they react to his premise. His detective is Remy Chandler, a former angel. Chandler is trying to live his life as a human, but continues to find himself in situations that force him to use his angelic powers. In “Noah’s Orphans” another angel hires Chandler to find Noah who has disappeared from his home on an oil platform in the middle of the ocean. Things get stranger from there.
Has reading Mean Streets won me over to urban fantasy? Are magical hard-boiled detectives going to find a home on my TBR shelf? I say never say never. If you wonder around the entire bookstore like I do, you never know where your eye will land or what cover will reach out and grab. Who knows what combination of genres someone will come up with next.
In the years since I first ran this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B., I have not become a big fan of urban fantasy detective novels. I still see plenty of them when I wonder the bookstore, but they have not found their way onto my TBR shelves. Still, I say never say never.