books

P.N. Elrod

Books

The Vampire Files: Bloodlist (1990), Lifeblood (1990), Bloodcircle (1990), Art in the Blood (1991), Fire in the Blood (1991), Blood on the Water (1992), A Chill in the Blood (1998), The Dark Sleep (1999), Lady Crymsyn (2000), Dark Road Rising (2009), The Devil You Know (2009)

Anthologies: Assassin Fantastic (2001), The Repentant (2003), Dracula in London (2004), Rotten Relations (2004), My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding (2006), Many Bloody Returns (2007), My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon (2007), Strange Brew (2009), Dark and Stormy Knights (2010), The Best Paranormal Crime Stories Ever Told (2010), Hex Appeal (2012), Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations (2013)

 

The Vampire Files

 

Bloodlist (1990)

It's Chicago, in 1936 and reporter Jack Flemming is investigating a case he takes rather personally--his own death. (I feel like I've written or read that sentence before. Strange.)

I picked up this three book omnibus because we found three later books in this series used. Michael read one--book 7 I think--and wasn't very impressed. I figured that starting a series at book seven probably wasn't the best idea, and so found a copy of the first three books together (Three books for one! And I got it used! Deal!) I was far more impressed by the first book than Michael was starting on book seven. Unsurprisingly.

I'm fond of hard boiled mysteries (in fact I've been perusing used book stories for Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane), and I like fantasy, so I was predisposed to like this (now I feel like I have to go back and figure out who wrote the first vampire mystery. Copyright in 1990, this comes a year before Tanya Huff's Blood Price.

Bloodlist is actually pretty good. It has the hard boiled tone down pretty well, and I enjoyed the fact that the story is set in 1936. All three books in this collection are set in 1936. I'm very curious as to whether Jack Flemming moves through time or remains in the 1930s. However, I'm not 100% convinced by the setting. The details are correct, but I found myself forgetting that we were in Capone's Chicago instead of modern Chicago. Though to be honest, I didn't mind.

And as I've said previously, I'm fascinated by the way that different writers interpret the vampire mythology. Jack can enter a room uninvited, isn't bothered by crosses, and can change into a mist, but can't tolerate food or alcohol, and has trouble crossing water. I like the way that different writers give vampires different strengths and vulnerabilities.

This was an interesting story, and although I didn't necessarily believe that they were in Chicago, the dialog was fun anyway, and the mystery was interesting. And I've already started the second book.
Rating: 7/10

Lifeblood (1990)

Several weeks have passed since the events of Bloodlust, and Charles Escott offers Jack a part in his investigative services. But the next case they end up investigating end up being a search for the whereabouts of Jack's lover Maureen--the vampire who sired him. Despite the fact that Jack has decided to give up on Maureen.

As the series progresses, it seems that of the two, Escott is far more willing to use Jack's powers to their advantage than Jack is. Jack is uncomfortable using his vampiric powers to confuse people, while Charles sees it as useful for some of their investigations.

As far as secondary characters, I actually like Gordy better than Bobbi. Not that there's anything wrong with Bobbi, she just doesn't have any depth. She's pretty, she can sing, and she accepts Jack as he is. But I don't find her interesting. Of course that's pretty much par for the course in 30s mysteries, but still. And I was sorry not to see Coldfield in this book, as I found his character very interesting. However, I'm not sure how much they'd actually have seen of him, since segregation was quite strong in the 1930s.

The mystery, I think, may have been a little strong in this book than in the previous. Although Jack has to discover who killed him--and why--in the first book, the story is as much learning about who he is and what he does as about the mystery. In Lifeblood we know the main characters, and we know what Jack can do, so we got to concentrate a little bit more on the mystery. Of course the solution to this mystery also gave us more about Jack's past--as well as Maureen's.

Again, although he mentions all the right cars and books and movies and restaurants, the dialog still doesn't feel like 1936 Chicago. The feel of the story is more modern to me, despite the Great Depression trappings. But that hardly lessened my enjoyment. Since, after all, this is a story starring a vampire. So it doesn't really have to perfectly fit the time period if it doesn't want to.

A nice follow-up to the first story, and I've already started on the third (easy enough, since all three stories are in the same book).
Rating: 7/10

Bloodcircle (1990)

The third book in The Vampire Files series, Bloodcircle, seems to clear up the last bits of Jack Flemming's past. Jack and Charles Escott decide to travel to New York to see if they can discover what happened to Maureen.

I have to say that it's a good thing Jack's already dead, because he really takes a beating in these books. Last two books he got shot repeatedly--several times in the head--plus he's gotten the crap beat out of him in every book. Of course, being dead already, he doesn't have to worry about health insurance of paying hospital bills. So he's lucky there.

Although there is nothing in this story that particularly struck me or stuck out, it was still interesting--a decent mystery--and it was still fun to read.

I'm still not convinced of the setting however. It's not she's done anything wrong as far as the details--the details are all spot on--I just never feel like I'm reading story set in the 1930s. There's something about the dialog that still feels modern to me. But again, it's not something that kept me from enjoying the story, it's just something that sits in the back of my mind as I read.

I'm looking forward to the next Jack Flemming omnibus. We've already got seven, eight, and nine. Now I just have to wait for The Vampire Files II when it comes out in September.
Rating: 7/10

Art in the Blood (1991)

It probably means something that when I started the first story in The Vampire Files Volume Two I had to stop and think, "Wait a second. Which vampire was this? Who did he kill in the last book?" It possibly means that I'm reading too many vampire mysteries. But that's okay, because they're fun.

The first story in The Vampire Files Volume II is Art in the Blood. Jack Fleming (and let me tell you, every time someone uses both his names, I am thrown out of the story. Not through any fault of the author, I just have a hard time imagining the Jack Fleming I am familiar with being detective, no less a vampire.) escorts Bobbi to a party where she is to help provide musical entertainment. The party is being thrown by Leighton Brett, to celebrate the opening of his fiancee's gallery (where she shows and sells, unsurprisingly, Brett's paintings.)

While wandering around the gardens, Jack manages to rescue Evan Robley from a probably justified beating, and after meeting Evan's sister as well as the artist Alex Adrian, they end up carting Evan back home. From there, mayhem and murder ensue.

Although I like the setting of 1930s Chicago, what I enjoyed most about this story was the mystery. There's something about murder mysteries, and the way that those who write them aren't afraid to kill of characters (after all, it would hardly be a murder mystery of someone didn't get killed.) The vampire bits are interesting, but secondary to the mystery. And it is, after all, interesting to have a private investigator who isn't harmed by bullets, but can't testify in court, since trials and hearings occur during the day.

The frustrating thing about this story, however, is that it kept constantly referring to events in the previous story. I mean--I read the last book in June! And I've several other vampire books since then! Give me a bit more of a hint about events if you're going to keep referring to them!

Otherwise, I enjoyed the story, and I'm starting to find Bobbi slightly less annoying. But really, what is it about hard boiled detectives and their girlfriends? I'm having a hard time coming up with a detective whose girlfriend I actually like. But Bobbi seems to have become less of a bimbo over time, so she's becoming easier to like.

If you like supernatural stories, and you like mysteries, then you should like the Jack Fleming Vampire Files collections. However, start at book one and work your way forward.
Rating: 6/10

Fire in the Blood (1991)

I have to say that I found Fire in the Blood disappointing on multiple levels. Although the mystery wasn't bad, I know I've read at least one of the major conclusions. So it was only the details that were a surprise, rather than the mystery in it's entirety. And I was sorely disappointed in the ending. The final paragraph was nothing more than a teaser for the next book. I hate that. The major surprise was the trail of bodies--there was a pretty high body count in this story. Well, higher than I had expected anyway.

Jack Fleming and Charles Escott are hired by a millionaire Sebastian Pierce to discover what happened to the bracelet his wife left to their daughter, spoiled brat and heiress Marian Pierce. Mr Pierce suspects that one of Marian's less than savory friends has heisted the jewels, and wants Jack and Charles to recover the bracelet.

About the only thing I really liked (or at least found very interesting) in this story was the sub-thread about Doreen Grey, and what happens between Doreen and Jack. Except of course, that was yet another thread left hanging, so we don't actually learn what is really going on. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind secrets and stories that take multiple books to unfold. I just don't like it when so much of what seemed a best a mediocre books finishes with little more than a "Read the Next Book!" ending.

Here are the last two paragraphs:

I pulled into the street and stepped on the gas. In the rearview mirror, I chanced to look back, and saw a silent Cadillac with smoke-dark windows doing the same. Snake, I thought, and my hands began to tremble.

Bah.

On a more positive note, I do like the way that Jack still has limits to his powers, and has not become an invincible being. And again, I like the fact that when this private eye gets knocked out and seriously harmed, I don't have the voice in the back of my head asking, "who is going to pay all these hospital bills?" He's a vampire. He heals all on his own! I also liked the fact that she was willing to create an entire book of unlikable characters, and to have Jack and Charles walk the line between "what needs to be done" and brutish thug. I just wish I could have found the story a little more interesting.

I also cannot understand why Jack was asked to leave Top Hat Club. He got jumped--he didn't start the fight himself. Sure, it got him backstage with Bobbi, but it didn't make any sense to me that he was asked to leave.

So, I can see that this reading this book is going to be a requirement for the next book. I just hope that the next book doesn't end with a cliff hanger as well.
Rating: 5/10

Blood on the Water (1992)

Okay. Now I'm starting to get frustrated. This is the second book with an unfinished story arc. It's not quite as bad as the previous book, but it's still frustrating.

Blood on the Water picks up immediately after the end of Fire in the Blood. And by immediately, I mean moments, not days. Vaughn Kyler is out to get Jack Fleming--and by get, I mean kill. Jack's first goal is to get Bobbi to safety; his second goal is to square things with Kyler.

This story spans a 24 hour period--a period during which Jack is dead to the world for several of those hours. And at the end of the 24 hours, Jack is out of his current dilemma, but things are really no better, and nothing has truly been resolved.

And that's the crux of my problem. Next to nothing has been resolved. Jack is still in danger, and there is no resolution in sight. This series started out along the lines of a hard boiled mystery, and in the first four books they read like a mystery--a problem is presented and resolved in a single book. There is the underlying arc of Jack learning more about his condition, but that's fine, since the characters have to continue to grow through the series. But Blood on the Water refuses to resolve the story begun in Fire in the Blood, and the focus becomes more and more upon Jack and his powers and issues. Charles and Bobbi are much more in the background--in fact we barely see Bobbi at all. And the worrisome changes we see in Charles in the previous book are hardly mentioned, except in passing.

Essentially, this book frustrated the heck out of me, and I'm really hoping that the next book resolves this current story arc, and that she sticks to single book story arcs from here on out. If you have no read a book in The Vampire Files series, this is definitely not the place to start. My recommendation would be to start at the first book, and read through Art in the Blood. I'll let you know whether it's worth it to continue on after that.
Rating: 5/10

A Chill in the Blood (1998)

The best thing about A Chill in the Blood is that it finishes the story arc started in Fire in the Blood. Angela Paco and Vaughn Kyler are fighting for control of Chicago and Jack and Charles are caught between, with both gangs believing that Jack is the root of their problems.

The other thing I liked was Shoe Coldfield. I like his character quite a bit, and we learned more about him in this book. However, we learn little about Charles, Bobbi hardly appears at all, and Jack is too busy spending his time thinking about how to get out of his situation to worry about his hypnotic powers.

As far as the quality of the book, it was a fast read, and I found it hard to put down, but that was partially because I wanted to find out how everything turned out, in the hopes that we could move onto something else. I also thought that Angela Paco got off really easy, all things considered. In many ways she seems as bad as Kyler (and others) yet because she's good looking, and looking out for her dad, her actions are more justified?

But, as I said, the story arc is over. Angela Paco and Kyler are both taken care of, so we can finally go somewhere else. And I hope we do. Although it'll be awhile before I find out. I'm taking a break from Jack Fleming, and hoping that when I come back, we'll have returned to the single story arc books.
Rating: 6/10

The Dark Sleep (1999)

I don’t know how I messed it up, but somehow I thought that The Dark Sleep came after Lady Crymsyn. This would be wrong. The Dark Sleep precedes Lady Crymsyn. Luckily, both are stand alone books, so I didn’t lose anything by reading them out of order.

This was a somewhat complicated mystery with lots of twists. But what I liked best about it was that we finally learned something about Escott’s past. Shoe Coldfield has made insinuations through multiple books that Charles is haunted by his past, but when pressed, repeats that Jack should get Charles drunk and press him for the story himself.

One thing that seriously bothered me was the “flashback” of Shoe telling Jack what happened to Charles. I didn’t mind the idea of it, what I minded was that Shoe was supposed to be telling Jack what happened, but the first line of the event was Escott's reflection on the events. That disconnect completely threw me from the story, because I had to go back and make sure Charles hadn't gotten up to tell the story himself (he hadn't).

I didn't find the mystery particularly strong, but finally learning some of Escott's history made up for it. It isn't a nice history mind you, but we do finally learn it.

This is an important book in the series--not for what happens to Jack, but because we learn about Charles. However, this book is (unusually for the series) somewhat isolated from the rest of the series, so it wouldn't make a bad starting point into the series. Additionally, for anyone who wanted to skip reading Fire in the Blood, Blood on the Water, and A Chill in the Blood, the important result of those three books (How Jack gets the money to open Lady Crymsyn) is briefly covered here. (My apologies to P.N. Elrod, but I really felt those three books should have been condensed into one. Then I might not have minded it so much.)
Rating: 7/10

Lady Crymsyn (2000)

After finishing the last three books, I was reluctant to read this book, for fear it would continue what felt to me as a downward spiral. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Lady Crymsyn went back to the things that I had liked so much about the previous books--an interesting mystery, a fast pace, and a sharp story.

The story moved quickly, and although I picked up the book only to read a few chapters to see if I was going to like the story, I ended up nearly finishing the book, with one of those "just one more chapter" evenings.

Jack has taken the money he re-appropriated in Blood in the Water, and leased a nightclub he is repairing and planning on opening, called The Lady Crymsyn. Unfortunately for him, the workmen discover a body bricked up in the basement, a la Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado."

As I said, I found this to be a huge improvement over the last three books. The story arc is self-contained, and the story itself is fast paced. Although Jack hasn't resolved his issues, he seems to have moved past them. And although Charles is still an enigma he seems more stable in this book, and plays a more reasonable part in Jack's life, although nothing like the part Charles plays in the first couple books. Charles is continuing to work as a private investigator, but his cases do not involve Jack, who is wrapped up in getting his nightclub ready for opening night.

If you stuck through the past three books, then you'll be well-rewarded with Lady Crymsyn. Although past events are mentioned, the current story doesn't hinge upon those events, and so this would be an acceptable place to jump into the story, if you did not have access to the previous books.
Rating: 8/10

Dark Road Rising (2009)

Jack Flemming is in trouble. He’s put his best friend and partner in the hospital, and the mobsters from New York won’t leave him alone. Even worse, one of the mobsters is actually a vampire, and in a strange twist of fate, Jack is ordered to keep tabs on him until he goes back to New York.

Dark Road Rising immediately follows events in the book Song in the Dark. Which I don’t have. (It’s out of print.) Luckily, having missed those the previous book didn’t have too great of an impact, since the past events were described at least enough to make sense of current events.

The story is quite dark. Jack is getting past an ugly place, and Whitey Kroun, the vampire from New York is a cipher with a very black history. But the Kroun thread was the darker of the two, and we actually see events from his point of view. I quite liked this part of the story, as we slowly discovered who Kroun is, and why everyone is so nervous around him.

I am glad that she put quite a bit of back story in, since we apparently missed quite a lot, and picking up the previous books to pick up the story is not going to happen until they are reissued. On the other hand, if you have no history with Jack and Escott and Bobbi, I’m not sure that you won’t be missing a good deal by starting to story here. We started this series in the middle, and weren’t too enamored with the book where we began. But when we went back and started at the beginning, things made quite a bit more sense.

So if you have read Jack Flemming stories previously, you’ll probably want to pick up this installment. If you have not read any of the series before, I’m not sure this would be the best place to start.
Rating: 7/10

 

Short Stories

 

The Devil You Know (2009)

The Devil You KnowI like PN Elrod’s Jack Fleming series. Jack is a vampire, living in the 1930s, who works as a private eye, owns a nightclub, and quite accidentally developed ties to the Chicago mob. It’s fun, and I enjoy the setting immensely.

In this story, Jack receives a telegram from Jonathan Barrett, a vampire from the 1700s, telling him that the body of the woman they both loved has finally been found, and that Jack is invited to the funeral service.

Barrett and Flemming don’t get along particularly well, and Jack expects a confrontation at any turn. Instead Barrett provides Flemming with a mystery–one that ends up taking them into New York city and the mobsters there.

I can’t say this was my favorite Jack Flemming story. I–like Jack–found Barrett rather annoying, and found Jonathan’s 1700s worldview difficult to deal with in the 1930s–especially when both are foreign to the twenty first century. It was a difficult combination to pull off, and for me at least it didn’t work. The mystery itself was quite interesting, and I enjoyed Izzy the female reporter, but could have done with a lot less of Jack’s angst, even if it was immanently appropriate for the situation.

If you have not read a Jack Flemming book, you could easily jump into the series here. But it’s certainly not the strongest story in the series, and I think you’d be better served starting elsewhere.
Rating: 6/10

Published by VampWriter Books

 

Anthologies

 

Rotten Relations (2004) edited by Denise Little

Rotten RelationsI was really disappointed in this collection. I had, as the song goes, high hopes, but was, in the end, let down.

I picked up the book because the idea of it sounded great: villains from fairy tales and literature telling their side of the story (much like Gregory Maguire's Wicked I believe.)

As with Twice Upon a Time, we got stories based on the same tales, several times, when there are so many other stories out there besides Cinderella, and I can only take so much of Cinderella.

Home for the Holidays - Pauline J. Alma         
With A Face Only a Mother Could Love - Jenn Reese
Switched - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Trick of the Tricksters Tricked - Josepha Sherman
Thrice Told - Von Jocks
Dynasty - Bill Mccay
Serpent's Tooth - Susan P. and Bradley H. Sinor
Mirror, Mirror - Jacey Bedford
After The Ball - Pamela Luzier
Peggy Plain - Devon Monk
Healthcliff's Notes - David Bischoff
Cuckoo's Egg - Jody Lynn Nye
Rapunzel, the True Story - Robert Sheckley
Among The Stars - Susan Sizemore
King of Shreds and Patches - P.N. Elrod

There are some good stories in this collection, such as Josepha Sherman's The Trick of the Trickster's Tricked, where we get to see the wife of Iktome, Spider, and what she's learned, living with a trickster for so long. Josepha Sherman got the Trickster tale tone perfectly. I also liked Von Jocks Thrice Told, which reminded me of a story I heard on Selected Shorts. However many of the stories came across as half-hearted attempts of the evil-doer to justify their actions.

No offense, but there's enough of that in the news and media, I don't need it in my fantasy.
Rating: 3/10

Assassin Fantastic (2001) edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Alexander Potter

I know that Martin Greenberg puts together good anthologies, however there’s something about the “Fantastic” that gets tacked onto the end of each anthology theme title that puts me off for some reason. However, I’ve always been fond of Assassin characters, so I picked up the book.

Death Rites by Tanya Huff
Green Stones by Stephen Leigh
Coin of the Realm by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The Svedali Foundlings by Fiona Patton
History and Economics by Anna Oster
Never Say...Uh...Die? by Josepha Sherman
Dying By Inches by Teresa Edgerton
Darkness Comes Together by Mickey Zucker Reichert
Raven's Cut by Lynn Flewelling
Myhr's Adventure in Hell by P.N. Elrod
He by Leyte Jefferson
War of the Roses by Rosemary Edghill
On My Honor by Bernie Arntzen
A Touch of Poison by Jane Lindskold
Echoes by Michelle West

...

All in all it was a good anthology, and I quite enjoyed it. There were lots of original stories, and for the most part even the ones I didn't care for were well-written, making it more a matter of taste than of quality. And I found a couple of new authors to look for as well, which is always a good thing.
Rating: 7/10

Published by DAW

The Repentant (2003) edited by Martin H. Greenberg & Brian Thomsen

I love short stories, so I tend to pick up anthologies when I come across them–assuming they look even remotely interesting. The Repentant looked particularly interesting, since it had several authors I particularly like: Tanya Huff, P.N. Elrod, and especially Nina Kiriki Hoffman. And the theme was also one that interested me: supernatural creatures.

The Salem Trial by Jody Lynn Nye
Lycanthrope Summer by Jeff Grubb
The Den Mother by Edo Van Belkom
Brothers in the Flesh by Fiona Patton
Heat by Jean Rabe
She Dwelleth in the Cold of the Moon by James Lowder
Scleratus by Tanya Huff
Slaughter by P.N. Elrod
A Hollywood Tradition by Brian M. Thomsen
The Devil You Know  by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Intercession  by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
The Recall of Cthulhu by Tom Dupree
Redeemed by Allen C. Kupfer

...

The P.N. Elrod Jack Flemming was also good. Jack and Gordy come across a new vampire who is muscling in on Gordy's territory, and Jack has to stop him. It wasn't

...

Although there were a couple of stories I didn't like, overall, it was a strong anthology with a variety of interesting and well written stories. Although I have to admit that when I see them name Martin H. Greenburg on an anthology, I'm pretty certain of liking the majority of stories.
Rating: 8/10

Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City (2004) edited by Martin H. Greenberg & John Helfers

Mallificent - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Last Day Of The Rest - Russell Davis
Jack And The B.S. - Tanya Huff
Panhandler - Alan Dean Foster
Trading Fours With The Moldy Figs - Jean Rabe
Signs Are Hazy, Ask Again Later - Fiona Patton
Puss In D.C. - Pamela Sargent
A Faust Films Production - Janeen Webb
Brownie Points - Elizabeth Gilligan
After The Flowering - Janet Berliner
Little Red In The 'Hood - Irene Radford
Exterminary - Patricia Lee Macomber
The Nightingale - Dena Bain Taylor
Meet Mr. Hamlin - Bill Willingham
If You Only Knew My Name - David Niall Wilson
Keeping It Real - Jody Lynn Nye
The Rose Garden - Michelle West

Published by DAW


Dracula in London (2004) edited by P.N Elrod

I give up. After six months I’m about three-quarters of the way through, and haven’t enjoyed one single story I’ve read.

I generally like P.N. Elrod’s stories, and I’ve read several other anthologies she has edited, all of which I’ve enjoyed, but these stories? No. Yuck.

To Each His Own Kind - Tanya Huff
Box Number Fifty – Fred Saberhagen
Wolf And Hound – Nigel Bennett & P.N. Elrod
The Dark Downstairs – Roxanne Longstreet Conrad
Dear Mr Bernard Shaw – Judith Proctor
The Three Boxes – Elaine Bergstrom
Good Help – K.B. Bogen
Places For Act Two – Bradley H. Sinor
Beast – Amy L. Gruss & Catt Kingsgrave Ernstein
A Most Electrifying Evening – Julie Barrett
An Essay On Containment – Gene Deweese
Berserker – Nancy Kilpatrick
Curtain Call – Gary A.  Braunbeck
Renfield Or Dining At The Bughouse – Bill Zaget
Everything To Order – Jody Lynn Nye
Longterm Investment – Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

One possibility is that these are all based on Dracula (as is obvious from the title) and so they may lean more towards horror that I generally dislike. But these stories weren’t really that horrific–they didn’t leave me with that vague sense of nausea that horror often gives me. Instead, I just didn’t find them interesting.

So as my gift to myself at the end of the year, I’m going to stop trying to read this anthology and move on to something else.

Published by Ace

My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding (2006) edited by P.N Elrod

My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding is an anthology of short stories featuring supernatural creatures and weddings. All the stories are good, but some are better than others. In some of the stories the wedding is the main feature, while in other stories the wedding felt a bit tacked on to make the story fit into the anthology.

Spellbound - L.A. Banks
Something Borrowed - Jim Butcher
Dead Man's Chest - Rachel Caine
All Shook Up - P.N. Elrod
The Wedding of Wylda Serene - Esther M. Friesner
Charmed by the Moon - Lori Handeland
Tacky - Charlaine Harris
A Hard Day's Night-Searcher - Sherrilyn Kenyon
...Or Forever Hold Your Peace - Susan Krinard

One of the stories I particularly liked was P.N. Elrod's "All Shook Up." While catering a wedding, Frankie meets an Elvis impersonator who seems too good to be true--in more ways than one. I particularly liked how Frankie reacts to "Elvis" and tries to keep hormones from getting in the way of her good sense.

Esther M. Friesner's story, "The Wedding of Wylda Serene" was also an interesting one--and I very much enjoyed the story and the crazy twists and turns it took, however, I misread an important detail at the beginning of the story, and was confused as to the gender of the storyteller. For some reason I was convinced the storyteller was a female--which lead to my consternation later on in the story.

L.A. Banks' story "Spellbound" drew me in immediately. The idea of the Hatfield-McCoy being exacerbated by magic users in each family amused me, and I very much liked the writing. Michael picked up an L.A. Banks series a year or so ago. Perhaps I should pick up the first book in that series.

The story that was my favorite was Susan Krinard's "...Or Forever Hold Your Peace." I'm very fond of stories set in a Victorian setting--even an alternative Victorian England. Sticking magic into the middle of that is just a bonus. I also liked Kit and Olivia. I searched but I didn't see any books written by Susan Krinard that have those characters. But if she writes one, I'll definitely buy it.

All the stories have a romantic plot; some have boinking, but not all. (I, of course, prefer the stories without the boinking.) There were some stories that I preferred over others, but all the stories in the collection were strong and well worth reading, while several of the stories were well-written enough to make me glad I bought the collection.
Rating: 7/10

Many Bloody Returns (2007) edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner

I pre-ordered this, not realizing it was in hardback. As much as I love anthologies, I’m not that excited about hardback books–especially anthologies where I don’t know all the authors or the quality of the stories.

Many Bloody Returns pretty much tells you the focus of the stories: vampires and birthdays. In some cases it’s the vampire who is having a birthday, in other cases…not.
Luckily, I wasn’t too disappointed with my purchase. There were several stories by authors I like and charaters whose books I’m reading, namely, Charlaine Harris, PN Elrod, Jim Butcher, and Tanya Huff. Unsurprisingly, some those were also some of the stories I enjoyed most, as they built upon characters with which I am already familiar.

Of those, my two favorite stories were Jim Butcher’s “It’s My Birthday Too” and P.N. Elrod’s “Grave-Robbed”.

...

I also really enjoyed the P.N. Elrod story. Although I’ve found the Jack Flemming stories to have their ups and downs, I enjoy reading about Jack, and enjoy the time period in which his stories are written. Strangely, this was hardly a period piece in comparison to the other Jack Flemming stories. Instead, the focus is on the mystery/problem, and how Jack solves that mystery. And I quite liked Jack’s solution to the problem at hand.

...

Otherwise, this was a pretty good collection of stories. I probably would have preferred the book in paperback, but over all I enjoyed it.
Rating:7/10

My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon (2007) edited by P.N Elrod

The follow up to My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding, at least in theme.

This was a very mixed bag. Some of the stories were good, some I could barely stand to finish, and in fact, put this anthology down several times, for something (anything?) I liked a little more.

Part of the problem is that several of the stories were tied strongly into a series, so I either had trouble following what was going on or there was zero character development, since it’s all happening in the series.

Here’s what the anthology contains:

Stalked – Kelley Armstrong
Heorot – Jim Butcher
Roman Holiday, Or Spq-Arrrrrr – Rachel Caine
Her Mother’s Daughter – P.N. Elrod
Newlydeads – Caitlin Kittredge
Where the Heart Lives – Marjorie M. Liu
Cat Got Your Tongue – Katie Macalister
Half of Being Married – Lilith Saintcrow
A Wulf in Groom’s Clothing – Ronda Thompson

I’d read “Stalked” by Kelley Armstrong previously, but I don’t remember when. A couple has recently gotten married, despite having been in a long term relationship with kids. Both find themselves bored by their honeymoon, but neither wants to tell the other. I sort of skimmed, since I’d read it previously.

Jim Butcher’s story “Heorot” left me wondering what was going on, despite the fact I was (when this story was published) up on the series. At a beer championship, the brand-new wife of one of the entrants has disappeared, as has a keg belonging to a different entrant. This story just felt disappointing, possibly because I expect better of the Harry Dresden short stories.

“Roman Holiday, Or Spq-Arrrrrr” by Rachel Caine lost me completely. I read the first story in the previous volume, but apparently remembered nothing about it, and spent this story trying to play catch-up with the characters, and failing.

In “Her Mother’s Daughter” by P.N. Elrod, the daughter of a local mobster appears at the office, wanting Jack Fleming to find her husband, who disappeared at the reception. I like Jack Fleming, but I’m not sure I believed the resolution was really going to work out as described.

Caitlin Kittredge’s story “Newlydeads” was the story that I kept putting down and moving onto something else. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t know the characters, didn’t know the world, and didn’t particularly like the characters and wondered why the hell they were spending any time together.

Marjorie M. Liu’s story, “Where the Heart Lives” was one of the best stories, and actually stood completely on its own. You don’t have to know anything about her Dirk & Steele series to enjoy this story.

“Cat Got Your Tongue” by Katie Macalister was another story that really needed a background on the characters. A background I didn’t have. I also doubted the actions and motivations of the main characters several times. “Oh, you’re in an historical building and you’re just going to destroy an historical artifact and think no one will notice or care? Really?”

“Half of Being Married” by Lilith Saintcrow was okay, but the characters kept making pronouncements along the line of, “that’s it, I’m divorcing you immediately” in what seemed to be real anger, and then they’d boink, and then they’d be back to insults and threats of divorce. I really don’t think that was a relationship that would last very long. I also didn’t think much of the magical agency for which she worked, or for her lack of common sense in refusing to call and tell anyone what they discovered.

The final story, “A Wulf in Groom’s Clothing” by Ronda Thompson, as another where I was wondering why these two got married, but at least by the end I thought they might have a possible chance of making it. Even if I did want to throttle the woman several times in the beginning.

So, I generally found this a disappointment. If you’re following the series, then it might be okay, but very few of the stories seemed to stand well on their own.
Rating: 4/10

Published by St. Martin’s Griffin 

Strange Brew (2009) edited by P.N Elrod

Strange-BrewI love short story collections. They’re a way to discover new authors, visit with favorite characters, and to be honest I just enjoy short stories. Now if you like short stories, you eventually learn that a lot of collections are not worth buying, but there are certain authors that will cause me to buy an anthology on sight. This collection has several of those authors: Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, and Charlaine Harris.

As with most collections, there are some good stories, and some stories I didn’t like quite as well. For some reason, the stories I like the best seem to end up in the front of the book–which is unusual, because with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress anthologies, that tended to end on very strong stories. This collection, not so much, which is always a little disappointing.

Seeing Eye by Patricia Briggs
Last Call by Jim Butcher
Death Warmed Over by Rachel Caine
Vegas Odds by Karen Chance
Hecate’s Golden Eye by P.N. Elrod
Bacon by Charlaine Harris
Signatures of the Dead by Faith Hunter
Ginger: A Nocturne City Story by Caitlin Kittredge
Dark Sins by Jenna Maclaine

Patricia Briggs’ story “Seeing Eye” was one of my favorites. It’s set in the same world as her Mercy THompson series, but other than a mention of the Marrock, none of the characters from that series appear. Which is a good thing, since as I noticed with some of the other stories, if you’re not familiar with the characters in the series, short stories can fail miserably at times. This one does not. Moira is a witch–a good witch–who has made sacrifices for her power. She is very unhappy when her doorbell rings in the middle of the night, with a werewolf demanding she help him recover her brother. This story does feel like it may want to be larger, with these characters continuing.

Charlaine Harris‘ story “Bacon” was somewhat vicious for her (though not so much for other authors in the horror genre). It was actually rather amusing–in a slightly different way than her normal stories. In fact, I kept forgetting that I was reading a Charlaine Harris story–but in a good way. It also wasn’t about Sookie, which was a nice change of pace.

P.N. Elrod’s story, “Hectate’s Golden Eye” stars her vampire detective Jack Flemming. It doesn’t have quite as much atmosphere as her books, but the mystery is good–and does contains elements of magic that are somewhat unusual to her Jack Flemming stories.

Of the authors with which I was unfamiliar, I especially liked Faith Hunter’s story “Signatures of the Dead.” It had a very feel of horror, with a good deal of death and pain wrought by the vampires in this story, but the characters were interesting and intriguing. Apparently the author is writing a book about one of the secondary characters from this story, which is a very good way to do things I think.

The other story I especially liked was Jim Butcher’s “Strange Brew.” It’s a short story with Harry and Murphy, and it went in some interesting directions.

What I thought was interesting was several of the stories reached back into mythology for parts of their stories, which I really enjoyed (although I didn’t need all the explanation that was given). If you think you might be interested in reading supernatural fantasy, this anthology would be a good place to sample some stories.
Rating: 8/10

Re-Read: July 2014

This is a re-read, and as such, I skipped the stories I didn’t like or wasn’t in the mood for.

Seeing Eye by Patricia Briggs was the reason I picked up the anthology to re-read. I love Patricia Briggs’ short stories. This story does not have any of her usual characters, but is set in her existing world where werewolves and witches are real. Moira is a witch who is looking for revenge. Tom has been sent to her because his brother has been taken by the person upon whom Moira has sworn vengeance. I liked both Moira and Tom, and quite enjoyed this story, but then I can’t think of one of Patricia Briggs’ short stories that hasn’t been excellent.

Last Call by Jim Butcher was skipped, because after the series went in a direction I didn’t enjoy, I stopped taking as much enjoyment in the Harry Dresden short stories.

Death Warmed Over by Rachel Caine involves two characters I’ve come across in other stories, and this is how they came to work together. It was… fine.

Vegas Odds by Karen Chance was a story I skimmed through, because I generally don’t care for her short stories, feeling like I’m missing something because I haven’t read the series. This felt the same way.

Hecate’s Golden Eye by P.N. Elrod is a Jack Fleming story, and I enjoyed the re-read. I love the character and the time period. Charles is hired to help a woman retrieve her inheritance–which has been stolen by her cousin–the jewel Hectate’s Golden Eye.

Bacon by Charlaine Harris is another story I skimmed, although Charlaine generally writes short stories I like, I got so sick of the Sookie Stackhouse series that I have a hard time reading anything set in her world. This story involves Dahlia, whose stories I generally liked, but this one felt cliched.

Signatures of the Dead by Faith Hunter is the story that got me interested in reading Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series. Faith Hunter also is good at writing short stories, and this was a perfect introduction to Jane–especially since the story is written from the point of view of her best friend, the witch Molly.

Ginger: A Nocturne City Story by Caitlin Kittredge I completely skipped this. I just cannot get into Caitlin Kittredge’s short stories. They all feel like I’m mising huge chunks.

Dark Sins by Jenna Maclaine was interesting, and although it did feel like I was missing quite a bit, she did a decent job filling in the cracks to keep me from feeling completely lost.

I love anthologies, but I wish that more collections were edited for quality short stories, rather than to get as many names on the cover–regardless of whether those authors are good at writing short stories and novellas.
Rating: 7/10

Published by St. Martin’s Griffin

The Best Paranormal Crime Stories Ever Told (2010) edited by Martin H. Greenberg & John Helfers

I wouldn’t say the best necessarily, but it’s not a bad selection of stories. And the fact that I got to read it for free probably helped.

Appetite for Murder - Simon R. Green
Star of David - Patricia Briggs
If Vanity Doesn't Kill Me - Michael Stackpole
Grave-Robbed - P.N. Elrod
The Judgement - Anne Perry
Surprise Special Guest Appearance by... - Carole Nelson Douglas
Occupational Hazard - Mike Resnick
She's Not There - Steve Perry
Hostile Takeover - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Doppelgangster - Laura Resnick
The Necromancer's Apprentice - Lillian Stewart Carl
The Night of their Lives - Max Allen Collins
Road Dogs - Norman Partridge
Ninja Rats on Harleys - Elizabeth A. Vaughan
Stalked - Kelley Armstrong
Corpse Vision - Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The Unicron Hunt - Michelle West

...

“Grave-Robbed” is one of P.N. Elrod‘s Jack Fleming story, but like other Fleming stories, does not require a knowledge of previous books, and (as with the previous two stories) is a good introduction to that world. A (very) young woman comes looking for Escott, but gets Jack. Because she needs immediate help, she decides to accept Jack’s assistance. Her sister has fallen prey to a medium who is taking her for everything she’s got, and it looks like he wants to marry the wealthy window. Jack’s client wants this scum exposed before her sister ends up even worse off.

...

There were a couple other stories in the collection, but I didn’t love or hate them, so all in all, this was a pretty strong collection.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Skyhorse Publishing

Dark and Stormy Knights (2010) edited by P.N Elrod

I can’t help myself–I love anthologies. And fantasy anthologies with writers who write their fantasy with a healthy does of mystery? Sign me up! All anthologies have high and low points, but overall this was a fairly strong group of stories.

A Questionable Client -  Ilona Andrews
Even Hand -  Jim Butcher
The Beacon -  Shannon K. Butcher
Even A Rabbit Will Bite -  Rachel Caine
Dark Lady -  P.N. Elrod
Beknighted -  Dreidre Knight
Shifting Star -  Vicki Pettersson
Rookwood & Mrs. King -  Lilith Saintcrow
God's Creatures -  Carrie Vaughn

The book starts off with a current favorite author, Ilona Andrews. This is a Kate Daniels story, only set in the past, when Kate was still working for the Mercenary Guild. And we get to see how she met Saiman, which is a story well worth reading. Plus, this glimpse into Kate’s past was quite interesting. I have to admit that as much as I have been enjoying the series, I really really like independent Kate.

The second story is by Jim Butcher, but is not a Dresden story (although Harry is mentioned). Instead the main character is John Marcone, who we met in an earlier Dresden book. Justine is in trouble, and comes to Marcone for sanctuary as he is a signer of the Accords. Unfortunately a really nasty monster is after Justine, and Marcone doesn’t really have that much to gain by helping her. What was especially interesting about this story was seeing characters like Harry from the eyes of outsides.

The fourth story was Rachel Caine‘s story, “Even a Rabbit Will Bite.” I wasn’t particularly thrilled with her Weather Warden series, so I wasn’t expecting much from this story. Interestingly, it’s a short stand-alone story that I ended up liking very much. Lisel is the last Dragonslayer, and she is to train her replacement to kill the last remaining dragon. An elderly woman is rarely the hero of the story, so I especially liked that twist.

Jack Flemming makes another appearance in P.N. Elrod‘s story “Dark Lady.” A woman shows up looking for Jack, to beg him for help saving her fiancee from the mob. Unfortunately, he double crossed Gordy (Jack’s sort of boss) so there’s not much Jack thinks he can do for her, but being a sucker for a damsel in distress, he tries to help her anyway.

Lilith Saintcrow‘s story, “Rookwood & Mrs. King” was a vampire story, only without the romantic swoony vampires. Which was a nice change. A woman asks Rookwood to kill her husband, and Rookwood starts to refuse until she tells him her husband is undead and haunting her.

The final story was Carrie Vaughan‘s “God’s Creatures” which stars Cormac early in his career, before meeting Kitty. Again, I liked stepping into a characters past, and I also liked learning more about a secondary character–a nice twist that brings you into the world that already exists, but doesn’t do anything to ruin the ongoing storyline if you’re not familiar with the author.

Yes, there were other stories, but they weren’t particular favorites. but the stories mentioned above are well worth the price of the book, especially if you’ve not read stories by these authors before.
Rating: 8/10

Published by St Martin’s Griffin

Hex Appeal (2012) edited by P.N Elrod

As I was expecting, this collection was a mixed bag. Luckily, the good stories were very good, and worth the price of the anthology.

Retribution Clause - Ilona Andrews
Bigfoot on Campus - Jim Butcher
Holly's Balm - Rachel Caine
Snow Job - Carole Nelson Douglas
Outside the Box - P.N. Elrod
How Do You Feel? - Simon R. Green
There Will Be Demons - Lori Handeland
Cherry Kisses - Erica Hayes
The Arcane Art of Misdirection - Carrie Vaughn

I bought the anthology first and foremost because it had an Ilona Andrews story, “Retribution Clause”.

I love Ilona Andrews.

This story is set in the same damaged world as her Kate Daniels series, however, it’s set in Philadelphia, so there were no appearances by familiar characters (although Saiman was name checked).

Adam Talford and his partner Siroun work for POM Insurance. Neither is human, but we’re never told what Siroun is. They’re given an emergency case, and told that the company can’t afford there to be too many casualties. And that’s about it.

This was a very interesting story. If it weren’t for the fact that I track very closely what they have coming out, I’d think this was going to be the start of a new series, but, it isn’t, so enjoy it for what it is. A fun story.

The second author I bought the book for was Carrie Vaughn. Her story, “The Arcane Art of Misdirection,” is set in her Kitty the werewolf world, and Odysseus Grant makes an appearance. Like the Ilona Andrews story, there was no sex.

The last author I bought the series for was Simon R Green. I love Nightside, and “How Do You Feel” is a Nightside story.

Dead Boy is wandering around, getting into trouble and trying to feel something (anything really) when Walker tells him him information about the man behind his death, who caused him to become Dead Boy. I really liked learning Dead Boy’s story. But then, I love Nightside.

No sex, but we learn about Dead Boy’s girl friend finally.

P.N. Elrod’s story “Outside the Box” was another boink free story, and although it’s set in the same world as her Vampire Files series, it’s in the current time, and the magical and undead world have caught up with the times.

I quite enjoyed this story.

Jim Butcher’s story, “Bigfoot on Campus” had lots of boinking, but it wasn’t, well, it didn’t involved Harry Dresden, and it wasn’t particularly romantic. It reminded me quite a bit of the Buffy episode “Where the Wild Things Are,” which I admit wasn’t one of my favorites, but I found this story interesting.

“Holly’s Balm” by Rachel Caine was okay, but I am unfamiliar with that world, and felt kinda lost through some parts of the story. Lots of sex. Lots of thinking about sex.

Not really my thing.

The Carole Nelson Douglas story reminded me why I quit reading her Delilah series.

I read a few pages into “Cherry Kisses” and moved along to the next story, and “There Will be Demons” I speed read through.

But all in all, it was well worth the price of admission for the stories I did like.
Rating: 8/10

Published by St. Martin’s Griffin

Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations (2013) edited by Paula Guran

weird-detectives-recent-investigationsThis is a collection of short stories previously published elsewhere, so I’d already read several of these stories. But there were several I had not, and several of the ones I’d read before were well worth reading again.

This book has been sitting around for awhile, waiting to be read, primarily because I got it in trade paperback, and it’s huge and heavy–just the kind of book I hate reading. Too heavy and too bulky for comfortable reading. But the stories drew me in and didn’t let me go. (Though the book itself was why I lacked patience for stories I’d recently read or didn’t catch my interest immediately.)

“The Key” by Ilsa J. Blick
“The Nightside, Needless to Say” by Simon R. Green
“The Adakian Eagle” by Bradley Denton
“Love Hurts” by Jim Butcher
“The Case of Death and Honey” by Neil Gaiman
“Cryptic Coloration” by Elizabeth Bear
“The Necromancer’s Apprentice” by Lillian Stewart Carl
“The Case of the Stalking Shadow” by Joe R. Lansdale
“Hecate’s Golden Eye” by P.N. Elrod
“Defining Shadows” by Carrie Vaughn
“Mortal Bait” by Richard Bowes
“Star of David” by Patricia Briggs
“Imposters” by Sarah Monette
“Deal Breaker” by Justin Gustainis
“Swing Shift” by Dana Cameron
“The Beast of Glamis” by William Meikle
“Signatures of the Dead” by Faith Hunter
“Like a Part of the Family” by Jonathan Maberry
“Fox Tails” by Richard Parks
“Death by Dahlia” by Charlaine Harris
“Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell” by Simon Clark
“See Me” by Tanya Huff
“The Maltese Unicorn” by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Initially, I was just going to flip through and read stories by authors I love, but then I ended up just reading straight through. Having no patience, if I story didn’t immediately grab hold, I didn’t finish it, and if I hadn’t thoroughly enjoyed it the first time (or had read the story very recently), I didn’t give it a second read.

...

“Hecate’s Golden Eye” by P.N. Elrod is a story I’d read before. Jack Fleming helps his partner Charles Escott attempt to recover a stolen necklace. I can’t say this is one of my favorite Jack Fleming stories, but it wasn’t terrible.

...

As I said, this contained a lot of stories I’d read previously, but they are for the most part good stories, so if you don’t have the original anthologies, this would be well worth getting.
Rating: 8/10

 

 

P.N. Elrod's website