I took a chance on Dead Letters: Stories of Murder and Mayhem. I'd never read anything by Chris F. Holm but from the description I thought this sounded like what I was in the mood for. I was right.
The mood of these stories is dark, the "Stories of Murder and Mayhem" sub-title should've tipped you off. But not too dark, there's some humor in here but more importantly there's reason. The characters in these tales are certainly not all admirable, but they all seem real. Well, maybe not the elf (more about him) later but the elf story works fine in it's own world.
I didn't find a dud in the bunch of these stories. Here's a quick, spoiler-free synopsis of what you get for your three bucks:
Most of the stories are short. That's OK, they feel like they run exactly long enough to tell the tale.
The first story "The Putdown" packs youth and friendship tightly into a fine tale of consequences.
"Action" is a story with more than a bit of humor, a caper tale of actors taking things perhaps a bit too seriously.
"A Native Problem" feels like a creepy B. Traven tale with a well-played sense of dread to it.
"The Man in the Alligator Shoes" has a surprisingly sympathetic protagonist and a title character who may be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The loud talking Americans in "A Night at the Royale" almost find themselves living in a Tarantino film, at least for a bit. And that's not exactly a good thing.
"The Final Bough" is the best elf-detective Christmas story you'll read this year. I'm confident in saying that. It's a heartwarming tale, but maybe not for the real young kids.
"One Man's Muse" revisits that legendary doublewide in Hermon, Maine where some guy named Stephen King started writing the damnedest stories. I wonder where he got his ideas?
"Green" is a cautionary fable on the dangers of drugs, man. It's kind of a bummer.
The longest story in this collection, "The Hitter" is also the best of a very good bunch. In this story Mr. Holm has a bit more of a story to tell. It's tense and tight all the way through.
Dead Letters a great collection of stories.