Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Dark End of the Street edited by SJ Rozan & Jonathan Santlofer

The Dark End of the Street edited by SJ Rozan & Jonathan Santlofer. Bloomsbury £7.99/$16.00
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

I checked the city's two large bookshops recently and short story collections of crime fiction were a rarity. So this one promised to be a treat -- and it is a promise handsomely fulfilled.

Here are 19 stories by some of the finest crime writers around with tales themed on sex and violence. I'm pleased to report that we do not get a series of serial killers hacking hapless victims and then having sex with their corpses; oh no, we get some sophisticated and thoughtful stories that explore the boundaries of sex and crime. And sometimes the sex part is barely present; it's somewhere in the background or in the past. Sometimes it's love gone awry; sometimes, it's just lust -- and power. It's all about control.

I'll only mention a few stories, the ones that stood out for me. "Dragon's Breath" by Madison Smartt Bell deals with drugs in New York. Meanwhile, "Scenarios" by Lawrence Block is a humorous examination of the serial killer -- rather the potential to be one. "The Heredity Thurifer" by Stephen L Carter is about a 30 year old murder that haunts a community and is, in effect, a rather good ghost story.

"Sunshine" by Lynn Freed and "Daybreak" by SJ Rozan both have similar themes and similar penalties for the villains -- much deserved, I say. "Tricks" by Laura Lippman is all about serial relationships while "Deer" by Janice YK Lee shows how an unexpected event -- the dead deer -- can fracture friendships. "Midnight Stalkings" by James Grady reminded my of Mr & Mrs Smith (the movie) but in a good way; it's a twist-in-the tail story that works well. "The Creative Writing Murders" by Edmund White is an effective story of ambition in academia, and how deaths appear to be beneficial to the protagonist. Co-editor's Jonathan Santlofer's "Ben & Andrea & Evelyn & Ben", one of my favourites, is about the breaking relationship between Ben and his wife Andrea.

In fact, all good fiction deals with people and their relationships with others and their world, and how they deal with it -- or not. And that's one of the strengths of this anthology: it's a microcosm of humanity touched by, and touching sexual crime. There were just two or three stories that didn't work for me, but out of 19 ... well, that's like worrying over a zephyr whilst being battered by a hurricane. (Besides, an anthologist once told me that he doesn't expect an individual reader to like every story in a book -- if he or she did, they'd be that anthologist.)

The Dark End of the Street is a brilliant collection of stories, no doubt about it. The writing is crisp and the stories (with the aforementioned proviso) gripping. These are noir crime tales that eschew rote detectives and wise-ass, cynical cops. If Crime Wave magazine is on your reading list you should get hold of this book. An additional treat are the illustrations scattered throughout. These, by Santlofer, capture the black & white & grey tones of the genre. I really enjoyed this book: recommended.

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