The Deadly Streets by Harlan Ellison (book review).

If you’ve ever walked down a dark street and felt intimidated or had your property stolen, you’ll know the frustration and impotence that those situations create. If you’re lucky, your world and this will only cross over once or twice but imagine it being your daily life. This is what Harlan Ellison highlights in this re-issued collection of crime short stories.


This is the third re-issue of the ‘The Deadly Streets’ since its initial publication in 1958. Despite the language and setting having dated slightly, the anger, fear and danger certainly hasn’t faded. Power struggles within gangs, deadly revenge and people pushed over the edge are themes within this collection that sometimes loosely link together.

With sixteen stories in this collection, it would probably take more time listing them out than for you to read them. It starts off with revenge tale ‘Rat Hater’ in which Lew Greenberg looks to get back on ‘Chuckling’ Harry Kroenfield for the death of his sister with the help of some feral rodents. It’s dark. Bloody dark. It also doesn’t get any lighter as the stories progress. There’s no finger-clicking dancing gang warfare of the Jets and Sharks here. It’s guns, blades and bleeding out in tremendous pain with no hope of a future.

Although there’s nothing supernatural, magical or futuristic about this collection, the world described in these stories is much scarier than any horror, because it’s real.

Some of the stories do link together. When Vode of the Jolly Stompers looks to get rid of the competition in ‘I’ll Bet You A Death’, the repercussions are felt in the next story ‘We Take Care Of Our Dead’.

Ellison proves not to be bias towards genders as many of his stories feature ambitious femme fatales that would give Lady Macbeth a run for her money.

What’s striking is the lack of retribution and rehabilitation by the perps. There are very few examples of true justice being served and it’s only in the last story, ‘Students Of The Assassin’ that do some main characters actually learn something for the better, albeit in a twisted way.

These stories are obviously close to Ellison’s heart. One can almost taste the vitriol coming from his fingertips in every word. Perhaps more chilling than any of his stories is his updated introduction ‘Avoiding Dark Places’ which shows Ellison’s frustration and confusion with the world that has become dark for no good reason. He details the time when he was worked over by two criminals and having personal experience of being beaten for ‘looking at someone the wrong way’, it’s easy to empathise with his anger and be taken along for the ride.

It’s quite a hefty collection that is probably best not tackled all in one go lest you fall into a deep depression. This is one set of stories that are best dipped in and out of between novels but they have definitely stood the test of time and most certainly worth reading. You dig?

Aidan Fortune

April 2014

(pub: Subterranean Press. 219 page deluxe hardback. Price: $45.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-538-3)

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