Anthologies are always “hit or miss affairs,” and this one is no different. The stories run the gamut of great to terrible, which surprised me a bit since virtually all the stories are from well-known crime/mystery writers, many of whom are virtually household names. As the anthology’s sub-title states, these are all stories that interweave crime and sex. Or at least, they’re supposed to; a couple of the stories are pretty much altogether lacking in sex and one is lacking a discernible crime. I don’t want to detail every story in the collection in detail, but I’ll provide rough groupings of all the stories in the collection along with quick, mildly spoiler-filled discussion for several of them.

Very good stories: Me & Mr. Rafferty (Lee Child) – excellent story exploring the relationship between a serial killer/vigilante and the detective hunting him; Tricks (Laura Lippman) – con artist gets his comeuppance; Daybreak (S. J. Rozan) – heartwrenching tale about human trafficking; Ben & Andrea & Evelyn & Ben (Jonathan Santlofer) – marital affairs in noir stories never seem to go well, do they?; The Creative Writing Murders (Edmund White) – set in an academic department, which is near and dear to my heart, it’s about a serial killer in academia.

Good stories: Scenarios (Lawrence Block) – quick, fun piece that plays with the fourth wall and explores some variant endings; The Perfect Triangle (Michael Connelly) – tale about a sleazy lawyer and his stripper client; Greed (Amy Hempel); The Salon (Jonathan Lethem) – another interesting take on a serial killer; I’ve Seen That Movie Too (Val McDermid); The Beheading (Francine Prose) – short but creepy.

Mediocre stories: Sunshine (Lynn Freed) – doesn’t belong in this collection because, well, it’s set in some Southeast Asian colonial setting rather than in a city (note the “Street” in the title) and it’s an absurd story about a guy who kidnaps and rapes girls who have been raised by apes (apparently there are enough of these that he’s able to make a habit of it); Midnight Stalkings (James Grady); The Story of the Stabbing (Joyce Carol Oates).

Bad stories: Dragon’s Breath (Madison Smartt Bell); The Hereditary Thurifer (Stephen L. Carter); Deer (Janice Y. K. Lee) – did I somehow manage to miss the actual crime committed in this story?; Toytown Assorted (Patrick McCabe) – I’m not even sure what was going on here, to be honest; Celebration (Abraham Rodriguez, Jr.) – not all that interesting or coherent, I’m afraid.

One last note on the book: it contains a number of black and white line drawings that are fine as far as they go, but we’re told in the collection’s introduction that they aren’t actually connected with any of the stories and are just intended to evoke a certain mood or crime-ish sensibility. That’s ok, but I’d have strongly preferred to have had either illustrations connected to the stories or (better yet) none at all.

I cautiously recommend this one, because there’s a stinker in this collection for every great story it contains, and a fair number of just plain middling pieces. I went into this one really wanting to like each and every piece, but there were definitely far too many disappointing ones included. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

Full disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program in exchange for a review. This has not influenced my review in any way.

Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers