Charlaine Harris is definitely one of the biggest names in urban fantasy right now, what with her popular book series becoming an HBO show that seems to be equally popular. Nevertheless, I’ve not really had any interest in visiting her world–my impression of it was “Twilight + more sex – glitter,” and anytime something is mentioned in the same breath as Twilight I try and stay far away. Then I found the anthology Down These Strange Streets at Walmart for an absurdly low price and picked it up. Ms. Harris is obviously the name they want to emphasize on the cover, but I was more drawn to S.M. Stirling (always a favorite) and Simon R. Green (whose work I’ve been meaning to try), among the others. I thought there was a Dresden Files story here too, but there’s not so that sucks. Anyway, I’m a completist, and the first story up was Ms. Harris’ Death By Dahlia, so I resolved to give it a shot. While I’m still far from sold on the Southern Vampire Mysteries or whatever the series is being labeled these days, I do have to admit that it was better than expected.
Dahlia Lynley-Chivers is apparently a fan-favorite side-character from the Southern Vampire Mysteries who the author has been exploring in a series of short story solo adventures in anthologies like this one over the years. I definitely felt like I was coming into the middle of a story without all the information, but that was to be expected since I had zero reliable information about the world in question before starting. Apparently this is a world in which vampires have “come out of the closet” and announced their presence to the world, along with the fact that they’ve successfully managed to invent a synthetic blood compound that allows them to live without preying on humans anymore. Which is all well and good, but a lot of vampires prefer the real thing. Fortunately for them, there are a bunch of humans more than willing to oblige for a price…or even just for the thrill of it. The vampires typically organize themselves into nests, with the ruler of a nest apparently being called a Sheriff. Dahlia is a truly ancient vampire, among the oldest in her nest, though her small stature belies how dangerous she is.
Dahlia is enjoying herself. There’s a party going on at the nest’s mansion to celebrate the rise of a new Sheriff, and Dahlia has found an old flame to help her avoid the awkwardness surrounding the old Sheriff’s hurt feelings. Everything is going well, until one of the human “donors” is discovered dead in the kitchen….with Dahlia’s best friend and her Werewolf husband as the prime suspects. Dahlia will have to move quickly to get to the bottom of the murder….which would be easier if nobody had called the cops.
Like I said, this was better than I expected. I still have the impression that the series as a whole is more focused on the romance element than I would prefer, and is definitely one of the influences in the cultural shift I disparagingly refer to as “the taming of the vampire,” but I may actually give the main series a look one of these days. Dahlia is an interesting character, and the world she inhabits is a much more complex one than I was led to believe. The mystery itself was solid, not too obvious nor too shocking, and the story turned out to be just plain fun.
CONTENT: Brief R-rated language. Bloody violence and the forensic examination of its aftermath. Strong, moderately-explicit sexual content.