I recently realized one thing I've been liking about multiple-author short-story collections: Most of the contents stand alone. I always appreciate new fantasy and SF set in worlds I've come to love. However, I find it increasingly exhausting to embark on authors who are new to me. I can't just pick up a book any more. When I look up potential purchases on the basis of a review or ad, almost all turn out to be part of some interminable series, so that I'd have to buy umpteen additional books to fully comprehend one. Because I want to read an ongoing story line all at once, I end up setting aside books for years till the author finally completes the series.
Unfortunately, many of the 16 stories in Down These Strange Streets are outtakes from different huge series that I've never heard of. And many of these spend so much room introducing whiz-bang characters and concepts from their world, and feeding new readers bits of backstory, that little room is left for actually telling this story. Plots tend to be thin and character development nonexistent. You can't sympathize with any character when you're constantly trying to get up to speed on exactly how many kinds of supernatural entities exist in this world and what magical gizmos they use. The worst offender is Glen Cook's "Shadow Thieves."
Notable exceptions are: First, Joe Lansdale's "The Bleeding Shadow," a harrowing tale of a Depression-era blues musician seeking supernatural aid for his art. The difficult relationship between the musician's sister and her sometime boyfriend (who have teamed to intervene) has real emotional depth. "Styx and Stones" is an overly cute title that has little to do with the story. It's a competent and well-researched historical mystery by Steven Saylor, set in ancient Rome. I've previously encountered his characters Gordianus and Antipater in an SF magazine and was almost intrigued enough to embark on the series, but decided not when I discovered there are already at least 11 books and more to come. Bradley Denton's "The Adakian Eagle" uses Dashiell Hammett as an important character. If you're not familiar with his real-life bio, it helps to read a short one online. This is the best story in the book. The narrator is a resentful, but still likeable, young soldier stationed in Alaska during World War 2. He is trying to balance military duty with human morals, to discover who and who not to trust, and to control his own destructive impulses, among events that will determine the rest of his life. Character development? Plot? You bet.
Down These Strange Streets probably has a winning commercial formula, a carefully chosen mix of authors and worlds that markets something to every potential reader. It's just that most of the stories are, at best, workmanlike.